The Pirates essentially finalized their 25 man roster earlier today. Technically speaking there are still a few additional players in camp but all of them are expected to begin the season on the DL. Overall the roster is constructed in a very expected manner and while it is not how I would have went about doing it most of the decisions are at least somewhat understandable. There are always going to be people who complain about the fringes of the 25 man roster but at the end of the day those fringes really do not matter much, it is the core of the team and the overall depth (bench, bullpen and minor leagues) that will determine the fate of a team. The 5th starter, the 5th bench spot and the 7th reliever are not really positions that will dramatically alter the course of a team so the overreaction to the Pirates decisions on those roster spots is likely overblown. With all that in mind let’s take a look at how the Pirates roster looks headed into Opening Day.
C: Russell Martin
1B: Garrett Jones
2B: Neil Walker
3B: Pedro Alvarez
SS: Clint Barmes
LF: Starling Marte
CF: Andrew McCutchen
RF: Travis Snider
BN: Michael McKenry, Gaby Sanchez, Jose Tabata, John McDonald, Josh Harrison
SP: AJ Burnett, Wandy Rodriguez, James McDonald, Jonathan Sanchez, Jeff Locke
RP: Jason Grilli, Mark Melancon, Jared Hughes, Tony Watson, Justin Wilson, Chris Leroux, Jeanmar Gomez
In reality the only players I would remove from the roster if I was in charge of its construction would be McDonald, Harrison (eventually Inge) and Gomez. In their place I would prefer to see Mercer, De Jesus and Morris. The other change I would like to see made is swapping Wilson and J Sanchez. Wilson is younger and in my opinion more likely to be able to contribute to the rotation for a few starts while Sanchez at this point is probably best suited trying to turn his career around as a lefty reliever. Even these changes though are for the most part temporary. When Liriano comes back I would most likely opt to bump Wilson from the rotation, when Karstens comes back I would most likely opt to bump Morris from the bullpen and I can even understand the argument for wanting McDonald over De Jesus. I don’t get Harrison or Inge over Mercer though. I know Mercer can’t play the outfield while the other sort of kind of can but the Pirates have enough options where they shouldn’t be considering playing infielders in the outfield anyway. The other advantage Inge has is supposedly power but people seem to forget Mercer has a little pop in his bat as well, it was just 2011 when he lead the Pirates minor leagues in home runs. Still arguments over the last bench spot are basically trivial and irrelevant. I don’t get why the Pirates need two (or even one) veteran middle infielders on the bench who can’t hit but in reality the difference between them and the other options is most likely negligible.
With that rather long disclaimer out-of-the-way I figured now was as good as time as any to take a look at the players the Pirates have opted to bring north.
The starting infield is what we expected it to be all along. Russell Martin behind the dish will be counted on to provide solid defense and hopefully will produce somewhere in the vicinity of league average offense from the catcher position. The Pirates likely overpaid for him but if his superior pitch framing skills are actually real and not just a product of catching for guys like C.C. Sabathia then there is a chance he lives up the contract or maybe even provides some surplus value. I’m not expecting much in terms of offense from him but if he can be non horrible and provide the Pirates with an OPS around .700 I would take it.
Garrett Jones likely won’t be playing full-time at first base but assuming the Pirates actually stick to regularly platooning him this season he should get about 70% of the starts. Jones is here for essentially one purpose, to provide the Pirates with relatively cheap power. The rest of Jones’ game is fairly unremarkable from his defense to his baserunning but he is a fair hitter with plus power. That doesn’t make him a super valuable piece but it makes him an asset in the middle of the order. On the hot corner will reside Pedro Alvarez. Like Jones, Alvarez could probably benefit by sitting against some left handers but hopefully the Pirates give him a chance to prove his worth against them. Also like Jones, Alvarez is here to provide the Pirates with some power but unlike Jones, Alvarez has enough power potential where he could develop into an extremely valuable piece. Alvarez is going to strike out too much and not play the best defense at third but if he can show a little more plate discipline, draw a few more walks and continue blasting home runs he is going to have a lot of value.
Up the middle Neil Walker figures to get nearly every start at 2nd base and assuming Inge takes Harrison spot he better be starting everyday as the Pirates really won’t have a viable alternative on the 25 man roster. He had some back problems near the end of last season which bares watching but in reality any injury to him would really hurt the Pirates. It is unclear whether Hurdle plans to use him near the top of the order or more towards the bottom but given the fact he is one of the few Pirates players with a decent knack for getting on base placing him near the top (or eve at the top) of the order would probably be the wisest decision. Up the middle with Walker is Clint Barmes. Barmes’s value comes almost entirely from his ability to field the shortstop position very well but even so he is going to have to improve upon last year’s numbers to be of much use to the Pirates. Over the last 4 months of 2012 Barmes posted an OPS of around .650 and if he is able to do that for an entire season he won’t be the most glamorous shortstop but he will give the Pirates value.
The starting outfield is pretty much what we expected all along. There was a quasi competition for the corner spots but for the most part those were basically just made up as it was rather clear who should be the starters. In center field the Pirates will once again have their superstar Andrew McCutchen. There really isn’t a whole lot to say about him. He is likely one of the best 10 players in the game today and in order for the Pirates to have any chance of competing he will need to perform at a MVP caliber level. McCutchen did have a few flaws last year though and hopefully this season he will improve upon them. Last season he struggled stealing bases and was a little on the weak side defensively. Considering the rest of his game these are minor points of course but shoring them up would only make him more valuable.
In the corners the Pirates will use Starling Marte and Travis Snider. I expect to see both of them rested, especially Snider, on a fairly consistent basis but they will both get a long chance to prove themselves. Marte has plus speed and is a great defender so even if he struggles with the bat this season he is likely to still provide the Pirates with value. By no means is Marte’s bat weak though as he has the potential to possibly be the Pirates second best hitter this season behind only McCutchen. Marte is likely going to be forced into the leadoff spot a role he isn’t really suited for since he has some strike out issues but if he can maintain a high average and show any improvement in plate discipline he should be serviceable there. In the other corner will be Snider. He doesn’t have the speed or defense of Marte so he is going to have to hit to create value. People tend to think him hitting is less likely than Marte hitting well but in reality I think its a pretty even race. Snider has shown flashes in the past and comes with more power potential than Marte. The Pirates in order to have a shot at competing probably need one of these two to break out and become a true plus player and the other one will have to at least hold his own and be an average starter.
As I have previously stated the construction of the bottom of the bench really doesn’t matter a whole lot but the players near the top of the bench will likely get a lot of playing time so they will matter a good deal. The top player on the bench is likely Gaby Sanchez and he is expected to pick up the 30% or so of the starts that Garrett Jones doesn’t get at 1st base. Ideally Sanchez would bounce back to his 2010-11 form but that doesn’t really seem likely. In reality all the Pirates need him to be is a good bat against LHP and a good PH option off the bench two roles I think he’ll have no problem handling. Jose Tabata could potentially wind up in a similar situation to Sanchez only in right field. It is possible he winds up platooning with Snider and if that is the case he too will have to hit very well against left handed pitching. Tabata has the upside for more though. At this point he isn’t likely to develop into your traditional starting corner outfielder but he has very good plate discipline and that alone has the potential to make him a valuable asset atop the order. His speed although it has been questioned is still above average and his defense is probably around average as well. Tabata has the makings of an OBP first starting corner outfielder or a solid 4th outfielder. He is likely to be the second most important bench player.
The third most important bench spot and the last I see with much value will go to Michael McKenry. As the backup catcher he is likely to get at least 60 starts this season and will need to continue hitting as well as he did last season to provide value in those starts. His defense is decent but often overrated by Pirates fans but his bat can make him a solid backup catcher. The last two spots are currently slated to go to Harrison and McDonald but Inge will likely eventually assume Harrison’s role. In my mind the most important of these spots is the Harrison/Inge spot. This is supposedly the offensive first infield bench spot so whoever holds it down is going to have to actually you know hit at a respectable level. McDonald will serve as Barmes backup and though he is probably a touch worse both offensively and defensively his presence in the lineup for a day here or there shouldn’t really cause a noticeable difference.
Right now the Pirates rotation is a bit of mess. At the top of it the Pirates have probably one of the best one-two punches they have had in a while in AJ Burnett and Wandy Rodriguez. Neither one is a true ace but both seem like fairly safe bets to put up solid numbers this season. At 36 and 34 years old respectively there is of course the chance that either Burnett or Rodriguez has reached the end of their rope as pitchers but with how both of them pitched last year it seems likely they probably have another year or two of value left in them at least. Behind them is James McDonald who si the ultimate wildcard for the Pirates. If there is a true ace currently in the Pirates rotation it is James McDonald. McDonald showed us in the first half of the season last year that he has the talent to be a number one starting pitcher but he showed us in the second half of the year that he isn’t ready to be that yet and possibly never will be. What James McDonald the Pirates get this year, potential ace, borderline #5 starter or somewhere in between will probably be one of the biggest factors in how the Pirates season winds up.
Rounding out the rotation are a pitcher who amazingly actually has a wider range of possible outcomes than McDonald and a pitcher who looks like a fair bet to be a solid a back end guy but who has yet to prove it at the major league level. Jonathan Sanchez is another wildcard in the Pirates rotation but he is even less likely to pay off than McDonald. If Sanchez can keep his control problems at a minimum he will have an excellent chance of being a solid middle of the rotation starter for the Pirates but if he can’t he will most definitely be a total disaster. The Pirates really can’t (or at least shouldn’t) be expecting much from him. If Sanchez can give the Pirates 3 or 4 non-horrible starts in the month of April without completely exploding then it should be considered a success. The other pitcher Locke is a different story. Locke pitched exceptionally well in AAA last season but in his short stint in the majors was the victim of a very unlucky high home run rate. Assuming the high home rate drops this season which it will almost assuredly do I’m fairly confident Locke can become a solid #4 starter for the Pirates and mange to keep them in almost every game. He isn’t the flashiest pitcher but his performance in AAA has earned him this shot.
The back of the bullpen will consist of Jason Grilli, Mark Melancon, Tony Watson and Jared Hughes. These four actually make for a fairly solid quartet of arms. Grilli has been successful in a set up and middle relief role the last two seasons and will inherit the closer role this year. Melancon struggled last year in April and was sent down to the minors but when he returned to the majors he pitched pretty well The two of them , Grilli and Melancon, will likely be the Pirates 8th and 9th inning duo. By no means is this the best back end duo in the league but the tandem should be able to close out most leads that are handed over to them. Watson and Hughes were rather successful last season in their middle relief roles and will be counted on this season in later inning situations. Hughes will probably inherit the 7th inning role and Watson will continue being the top left handed releiver in the bullpen. The success of these two last year makes it fairly likely the adjustment should be relatively smooth.
At the front of the bullpen trying to bridge the gap to the back 4 guys will be Justin Wilson, Chris Leroux and Jeanmar Gomez. All 3 pitchers are capable of throwing multiple innings and all will likely be called upon to do so throughout the year. Wilson provides the Pirates with a second lefty and one who is more of a strike out pitcher. Leroux and Gomez will likely pick up most of the long relief duties. Both are out of options and one of them is likely to be released once pitchers began to get healthy so it will be sort of an extended competition for the duo. Leroux appears to have the more upside but Gomez has more major league experience. Leroux and Gomez are both fairly replaceable relievers so they will have to pitch well this season to remain with the team.
Not much happening today. But I thought a general post to catch up on some recent news would be a good idea.
Brad Hawpe who has been receiving an inordinate amount of playing time has been released from camp. That means according to my projection there are 5 players left in camp for the last bench spot: Josh Harrison, Brandon Inge, Jordy Mercer, Alex Presley and Felix Pie. To me it comes down to Harrison and Inge and I think considering Inge’s health issues that Harrison has the upper hand.
Tony Watson pitched an uneventful 1-2-3 inning today so it appears more likely that he will be ready for Opening Day which would displace Mike Zagurski from my projected roster. Zagurski hasn’t looked good recently anyway and probably shouldn’t make the team.
Jeff Karstens is scheduled to pitch tomorrow and as long as things go right he has a chance of being ready to be part of the rotation to start the season. If Karstens joins the rotation he would displace Sanchez or Locke from the rotation. That displacement could result in the displacement of Ryan Reid/Jeanmar Gomez or even Justin Wilson from the bullpen. In addition to Karstens possibly being ready by Opening Day it sounds as if Francisco Liriano may be about a month behind that.
As Spring Training winds down the Pirates camp roster now sits at 36 meaning there are still 11 cuts to be made. I’m expecting that we will see some early next week and the roster will really begin to round into shape. The roster battles as I see them are down to Harrison/Inge for the last bench spot, Locke/McPherson/Sanchez/Karstens for the final two rotation spots and Wilson/Gomez/Reid along with the losers of the rotation battle fighting for the final two bullpen spots. All of this assumes Watson is healthy and the Pirates decide to carry Leroux and Tabata which all seem rather likely.
On the site this week I am planning to conclude my expectations series with a look at the non-player parts of the Pittsburgh Pirates. The final three parts of the series will be the coaches, the front office and the team as a whole. Keep an eye out for those. In addition to those I will have a few more season preview pieces. Finally I’ll be attending the Pirates last exhibition game of Spring when they play their AA affiliate on Saturday March 30th. It should be a fun experience and I’m looking forward to providing a recap of the game both from the major and minor league perspective.
In the meantime I have recently updated my Top 20 Hitting and Top 20 Pitching prospects. Check them out. For the record I update them about two or three times a month during the season and I am planning on providing some details on the top prospects in the near future.
Yesterday I made an ill-advised final attempt at predicting what the Pirates roster would look like come Opening Day. Less than 24 hours it has been proven wrong as Bryan Morris has been optioned to AAA. Morris wasn’t having the best Spring but I still feel like he was on of the Pirates seven best options for the bullpen to start the season. Since that attempt has failed I decided to give in another go today but this time primarily focus on the pitching side since that appears to have the most interesting questions remaining.
With today’s cuts of Morris, Ivan De Jesus and Jared Goedert there remains 40 players in camp. The following 18 players I believe have a firm grasp on their roster spots.
C: Russell Martin, Michael McKenry
IF: Garrett Jones, Gaby Sanchez, Neil Walker, Pedro Alvarez, Clint Barmes, John McDonald
OF: Starling Marte, Andrew McCutchen, Travis Snider, Jose Tabata
RHP: AJ Burnett, James McDonald, Jason Grilli, Jared Hughes, Marek Melancon
LHP: Wandy Rodriguez
The above roster guarantees leaves one position player spot and six pitching spots available. Of the remaining 22 players three, Charlie Morton, Francisco Liriano and Jose Contreras are definitely not going to be healthy enough to start the season so the number essentially is reduced to 19 players. Of those 19 players there are two who’s place on the roster is only dependent upon their health, Jeff Karstens and Tony Watson. This bring us down to 17 players battling for somewhere between 5-7 spots.
The one position player spot is fairly straightforward. The eight position players left in camp without a guaranteed spot on the roster are Lucas May, Carlos Paulino, Josh Harrison, Brandon Inge, Jordy Mercer, Alex Presley, Felix Pie and Brad Hawpe. May and Paulino have absolutely zero chance of making the team as they are just extra catchers. Hawpe, Pie and Presley face an uphill climb as the Pirates are likely to give this final spot to an infielder not an outfielder. So what all that reasoning leaves us with is Mercer, Inge and Harrison fighting for one spot. The acquisition of McDonald makes it less likely the Pirates will keep Mercer on the roster and Inge has been awful this Spring and has never really been fully healthy so the edge here has to go to Josh Harrison.
The pitching gets a little more complicated as there are anywhere from 4-6 spots available depending on the health of Watson and Karstens and 9 players vying for those spots. There is likely to be 1-2 spots available in the rotation depending upon the health of Karstens and the last remaining competitors for those are Jeff Locke, Kyle McPherson, Jonathan Sanchez and Jeanmar Gomez. Of the group Gomez is probably the least deserving and can likely be quickly removed from the discussion. That leaves Locke, McPherson and Sanchez and of those 3 McPherson has has the worst Spring Training and has the least supporting performance to fall back on. That makes the favorites for the final one or two rotation spots Jeff Locke and Jonathan Sanchez. At this point I can’t imagine Karstens being ready to start at the beginning of the year so I think both players will wind up in the rotation to begin the season.
Next up is the bullpen and that is a little more crowded. There are only three locks for the bullpen in Grilli, Melancon and Hughes but Watson and even Karstens could join them there if they are healthy. Outside of those players the Pirates have the following left handers, Jonathan Sanchez, Justin Wilson, and Mike Zagurski competing for spots and the following right handers, Chris Leroux, Jeanmar Gomez, Vin Mazzaro and Ryan Reid competing for spots. Based on spring performances and past track records I feel fairly confident that two of the vacant spots will be filled by Leroux and Wilson. If Watson and Karstens both start the season in the bullpen that will be enough arms to round out the pen but otherwise there could be one to two spots available. Right now I have no clue if these two will be healthy or even if the Pirates would be willing to have Karstens work out of the bullpen to begin the season. If Watson isn’t healthy I have to figure the Pirates carry a second lefty in Mike Zagurski and if Karstens isn’t healthy or they decide not to use him in a bullpen role and instead start him on the DL I think it likely comes down to Reid or Gomez. As things currently stand I think Reid has the upper hand in such a battle.
All of this leaves me with my first (and hopefully only) post final 25 man roster prediction of:
C: Martin, McKenry
IF: Jones, G Sanchez, Walker, Alvarez, Barmes, Jo McDonald, Harrison
OF: Marte, McCutchen, Snider, Tabata
SP: Burnett, Rodriguez, Ja McDonald, Locke, J Sanchez
RP: Grilli, Melancon, Hughes, Leroux, Wilson, Watson/Zagurski, Karstens/Reid
Clint Hurdle and the rest of the Pirates management have been on record stating they would like to carry at least two left handers in the major league bullpen. With less than two weeks remaining until opening day there are only 7 left handed pitchers left in camp and three of them, Rodriguez, Liriano and Locke, figure to be prominent members of the rotation. That leaves 4 players vying for what should be in theory two bullpen jobs. The four players left fighting it out are Tony Watson, Justin Wilson, Mike Zagurski and Jonathan Sanchez. These four players come with different experience levels and different backgrounds. Wilson and Sanchez have been used up to this point largely as starters but are now being looked at as possible relievers. Watson and Wilson are on the Pirates 40 man roster and Zagurski and Sanchez are NRI with Sanchez having an opt out clause if he isn’t added to the roster by March 24th. Below I take a look at the background of each of these 4 players and try to assess each one’s chance of cracking the Pirates 25 man roster out of Spring Training.
Heading into spring training Watson appeared to be a lock for one of the Pirates bullpen jobs. He has been a part of the Pirates major league team for a year and a half now and has been largely effective. However Watson has only pitched sparingly this spring due to what is called by the team and Watson himself mechanical and physical issues. No specific injury has been cited and Watson has pitched in a few minor league games but still his long absence from major league camp and the mysterious issues he is reportedly having make him no longer a lock to begin the season in the major leagues.
Last season Watson was dominant against left handed hitters and was good against right handed hitters as well making him an ideal left handed reliever for Hurdle who doesn’t appear to like using his relievers strictly as matchup guys. If healthy and ready to pitch Watson is undoubtedly the Pirates best left handed option out of the bullpen and his potential absence from the Pirates roster could really hurt the team. Watson could begin the year on the DL if his issues are truly injury related or he still does have 2 options remaining so the Pirates could start him down in AAA if they believe him healthy but needing more time to get acclimated to game speed. At this point no one except the Pirates seems to know just what is really going on with Watson and what his status looks like for opening day. If I had to put a number on it right now with all I know I’d say it is 50/50 that he is one of the 25 guys heading north at the start of April.
Over the course of the last two seasons the Pirates have tried Wilson as a starter to begin the year only to have him switch to relief near the season’s end. The change in roles was not due to him being ineffective though but rather to him struggling with his control. Wilson is one of the Pirates most talented pitcher in terms of just pure stuff but he has a big problem with his control. As Wilson moved up the minor league latter he became harder and harder to hit but his walk rate stayed relatively steady in the mid 4s BB/9. If he can manage to get that down to even under 4 Wilson has the talent to become a strong middle of the rotation starter and if he can get into the low 3s he could possibly become a decent #2 but as it currently stands Wilson’s best chance at major league success seems to be as a reliever.
Wilson got a cup of coffee in the majors last year and showed good stuff striking out a lot of hitters but when he didn’t do that they were mainly finding a way to get on base. Wilson faced only 26 batters in the majors last year of those he struck out 7 and allowed 13 to reach base. So far this spring Wilson has shown more of the same being tough to hit but continuing to walk too many hitters. It is difficult to tell exactly how the Pirates currently view Wilson; rather they see him as a potential starter they will want working out his kinks in AAA or whether they now think the best path forward with him is as a reliever. At the beginning of Spring Training I had Wilson on the outside looking in for a bullpen spot but with Watson’s mysterious issues and the Pirates comments on wanting at least two left handed relievers and multiple bullpen arms capable of throwing multiple innings I think Wilson’s chances of making the team are growing everyday. If I had to put a number on it right now I think I’d give him a 70% chance of coming north with the Pirates.
Zagurski received a minor league contract from the Pirates this past offseason and at the time he appeared to be little more than just depth for AAA but a couple of things have changed and they are the same two things I have discussed at length so far. One the Pirates appear likely to take two left handed relievers north and two Tony Watson very well may not be one of them. Those two factors along with a strong spring showing from Zagurski has brought him squarely into the conversation as a potential bullpen arm for the Pirates. His major league track record isn’t too good but he is coming off the best and longest major league stint of his career in 2012. It wasn’t good as his WHIP was 1.500 and his BB/9 were 4.6 but it was an improvement. On the positive side Zagurski has been fairly effective at AAA although he still has shown a problem with his control (something that is a theme for all Pirates left handed relief candidates). The other positive of Zagurski’s game is that he does have the ability to miss some bats although his numbers in that category have been slipping the last couple of seasons.
It should be pretty clear what the Pirates have in Zagurski and that is a below average left handed reliever who should be used as nothing more than a fill in should injuries arise during the course of the year. He almost certainly isn’t going to be a great reliever for the Pirates but his strong Spring performances gives some hope that he could be an effective one at least. The Pirates are having trouble with injuries as I stated with Watson so it definitely isn’t inconceivable he could start the year with the Pirates and be released once Watson is healthy. In fact if I were forced to guess right now I think that is exactly what the Pirates are intending to do with him. Since I have Watson as a 50/50 proposition and since I see Zagurski as Watson’s alternative I will also give him a 50/50 chance of making the Pirates out of spring training.
Like Zagurski, Sanchez was signed to a minor league contract with an invitation to major league camp but unlike him Sanchez came with some intrigue and in my mind some chance of making the team. Sanchez has had success in the majors before as a starting pitcher albeit one who managed to do so despite having poor control. Over the last two seasons however Sanchez’s control problems have gotten out of hand and he has been unable to still be effective in spite of them. Sanchez entered this Spring as a long shot for the rotation but certainly as a solid candidate for one of the available bullpen jobs. His first outing this spring was solid but it was followed up by 3 very poor outing where he showed essentially no control what so ever. He appeared to be out of the picture but a second solid showing a few days ago has him back in the competition although he is a long shot at this point. Still his overall numbers suggest he still has a few kinks to work out before being ready to contribute at the major league level.
Ideally the Pirates would prefer to send Sanchez to AAA, have him work on a few things and give him a chance to show that his control is now at least back to an acceptable level. However the Pirates probably do not have that option seeing as Sanchez has an out clause in his contract if he isn’t added to the roster by March 24th and from reports I’ve seen it sounds as if he intends to use it. As things currently stand Sanchez’ chances of making the Pirates appear very slim and in fact there are only two scenarios in which I can see him making it. The first scenario I think is highly unlikely and that is if the Pirates see something in him that suggests a minor tweak here and there can bring him back to his old form and don’t want him to leave. The second more likely but still doubtful scenario is if Ton Watson isn’t ready, the Pirates are intent on bring up two lefties and they deem Justin Wilson would be best served by heading back to AAA to start. Overall I’ll place Sanchez’s odds at around 10%. That leaves me at 180% for the four, the remaining 20% to me represents the possibility the Pirates opt to go with just one left hander.
Last offseason I did a 15 part preview of the Pirates upcoming seasons focusing on what I expected to see out of various positions at the major league levels, the minor levels, the coaching staff and the front office. The series went over fairly well with my readers so I have decided to bring it back for a second year. I’m not sure how many parts this year’s series will include but I will do my best to cover every key player I can think of.
Due to the nature of the job the bullpen arms perform I am not going to bother predicting exact numbers for each player but instead focus on a more general idea of what my expectation is for each player. With a small sample of innings the numbers of bullpen pitchers can vary greatly without there being much variance in their actual performance. As a whole thought I’m expecting the Pirates bullpen to be roughly like the rest of the team which is basically around average. It’s tough to put a number on the bullpen but I could see them being worth roughly 1.5-2.0 WAR this season.
Grill enters the 2013 season as the Pirates closer which is a role he has yet to fill in his professional career. Last season and even in 2011 Grill was outstanding first in middle relief and then in set up duty for the Pirates. His strike out rate last season was amongst the best in the majors and for quite a stretch of time he seemed almost unhittable. Still truth be told Grilli isn’t a spring chicken and the drop off for baseball players can be quick and when coupled with the violate nature of relief pitchers it is certainly possible Grilli could struggle. My expectation is though that he’ll handle the closer role adequately and be an average closer for the Pirates. Grilli will likely regress from his strong 2012 but he should still have a solid 2013.
Melancon was the key piece of the Joel Hanrahan deal and is actually fairly similar to the Hanrahan the Pirates originally acquired. He is coming off a terrible 2012 but that is largely due to a few poor innings at the beginning of the season. Melancon is currently the favorite to take over the set up role and I think he can do quite well in that role. He is familiar with the NL Central and was actually rather successful in it back in 2011 when he was part of the Houston Astros. Melancon doesn’t strike a lot of batters about but his rate isn’t extremely low either and paired with his high ground ball rate he has the makings of a very solid bullpen arm. Melancon is very likely to rebound from his poor 2012 season and I could even see him getting a few save opportunities this season.
Watson is the Pirates most experienced and at this point best left handed relief option. Make no mistake he isn’t a dominating pitcher but he has shown a nice ability to come in and pitch out of tight spots the last couple years and that is something that can’t be overlooked. I think the Watson we have seen the last year and a half or so is essentially what Watson is. He is a solid left handed middle reliever who should perform well during the season. My expectation is more of the same.
Hughes saw a rather alarming drop in his strike out rate last year but it was at least coupled with a lower walk rate. I have trouble believing his strike out rate won’t at least recover some in 2013 and although I’m hopeful it won’t I imagine his walk rate will also increase. Hughes is never going to be one to strike many batters out though so as long as he shows a slight improvement in his strike out rate his ground ball rate should be enough to keep him effective in 2013. The Pirates may let Hughes compete with Melancon early on for the set up role but I think he is best suited for a middle relief job where he can be called on to try and induce a groundball when one is needed. Hughes is another one like Watson who I think what we have seen is what we are going to get. I’m expecting some variation with his strike out and walk rates but I imagine his overall numbers will stay about the same.
Jared Hughes: Hughes had the most innings pitched out of the Pirates bullpen this season and overall had a pretty good season. His numbers weren’t dominant as he posted fewer than 6 K/9 but as the Pirates ground ball specialist that appears to be fairly acceptable. Hughes was used in multiple roles this season pitching some long relief at times and even getting a chance to close out a couple of games near the end of the season. There were some knocks against him near the end of the season for allowing a large amount of inherited runners to score but overall he only allowed 10 of 38 for a 26.3% rate. Which is perfectly reasonable. Looking at more traditional numbers like ERA and WHIP Hughes had a great season but he didn’t pitch quite as well as those numbers say even though he was good. The bottom line is Hughes put up a nice 60% ground ball rate and had good numbers supporting that, at a minimum that performance should earn him a middle relief job next season and possibly even give him a chance to win a set up role. Overall Grade: B
Chris Resop: Resop with 73.2 inning pitched had the second most innings out of the Pirates bullpen and did fair in his role. The one discouraging sign is that Resop has always been a strike out pitcher and this season his K/9 rate was down to 5.62 which diminishes his value and overall effectiveness. Usually ERA is not a great indicator of how a relief pitcher did during the course of a season but I think Resop’s 3.91 ERA fits him fairly nicely. He was an average middle reliever this season, the type you should be able to easily find. His WHIP was 1.43 and he allowed 10 of 27 inherited runners to score for a 37.0% rate. Basically Resop is what he is a fungible reliever who is capable of holding down the 6th or 7th spot in a bullpen but a reliever who can be easily upgraded upon. I’m not sure if the Pirates will bring Resop back next season or not but considering he should be relatively easy to replace I expect they will at least consider non tendering him. Overall Grade: C
Joel Hanrahan: Hanrahan threw 14 less innings than Resop and 16 less than Hughes but still received the 3rd most innings of any Pirates reliever. He was used almost exclusively in the 9th inning closer role this season which despite being largely debated by most bloggers is a practice I am relatively ok with. I would like to see some more creativity used but I pretty much accept it for what it is. Hanrahan posted a very strong, 10.11 K/9 but had some massive control problem posting a 5.43 BB/9. There were times this season when Hanrahan looked like his dominating self but there were also long stretches where he looked erratic and largely ineffective. Still more often than not Hanrahan got the job done even if it was not in impressive fashion. Hanrahan inherited only 7 runners this past season and left all of them stranded on the base paths. It was an up and down season for Hanrahan in which his numbers seem to suggest he pitched a whole lot better than he actually did. The Pirates will be able to bring him back next season for probably somewhere in between 7-7.5 million but I expect they will look to deal him. As for this past season I give Hanrahan an Overall Grade: C+
Jason Grilli: Grilli had a strong season posting an unbelievable 13.81 K/9 while posting a slightly high but still reasonable 3.38 BB/9. I think it is pretty clear he had the best season of any Pirates relief pitcher. Grilli pitched the 4th most relief innings for the Pirates this season but only inherited 6 runners which seems preposterous to me considering just how good he was but on the plus side none of the six scored. Grilli did start to get a little shaky near the end of the season but you really couldn’t have asked for much more from him this past season. Quite simply it was a stellar season. Grilli heads into free agency this offseason probably looking at a 2 year contract worth in the neighborhood of 8-10 million dollars. I’m not exactly sure if the Pirates will (or should) give him that kind of money and it will be one of the more interesting stories this offseason. Really not much more than excellent can be said when describing Grilli’s year. Overall Grade: A
Tony Watson: Watson for long stretches of time was the Pirates only lefty in the bullpen which was a large reason why he led the Pirates in relief pitch appearances despite finishing 5th in inning pitched. In addition to some other roles Watson filled this season the Pirates tried Watson as a lefty matchup specialist, it was a role he did ok in but he pitched essentially as well against lefties as he did righties which probably means he is better suited for a more traditional relief role and as a second lefty in the pen. The Pirates will hopefully look for a true lefty specialist this offseason so Watson can be freed up for other duties. Watson’s overall stat line doesn’t really jump off the page at you. I mean 8.94 K/9 is good but not dominating, a 3.38 ERA is good but again not great, and a 1.13 WHIP while very good is not eye-popping. However there was one thing Watson did extremely well this season and that was strand inherited runners. For the season Watson inherited a whopping 61 runners and only allowed 11 to score for a rate of 18.0%. Watson should be back next season as either the primary lefty in the bullpen or maybe as the fireman who comes in to try and put out the fires that the other pitchers started. Overall Grade: B
Brad Lincoln: Earlier I recapped Lincoln as a starting pitcher and he was awful but out of the bullpen he appeared to be an entirely different pitcher. He was as good as if not better than Grilli this season and was really settling into that role and looking good. Lincoln inherited 11 runners while with the Pirates and allowed none of them to score, plus he had an out of this world 99.3% strand rate. Quite simply Brad Lincoln in the bullpen was an awesome weapon Clint Hurdle had at his disposal when he was with the Pirates. We all know the rest though, come the trade deadline he was traded to Toronto for Travis Snider in a move that was praised and criticized by large chunks of the Pirates fan base. His removal from the bullpen no doubt hurt it but how much an impact it had can not really be said. For the record while with Toronto Lincoln was actually quite bad but since I’m judging him just on his performance out of the Pirates bullpen that is neither here nor there. It was a brief 35.2 innings but during that time in the bullpen we got to see the stuff and the talent which made Brad Lincoln a #4 overall pick. Overall Grade: A
Juan Cruz: Cruz pitched exactly the same number of innings as Lincoln did and had a fairly decent season. The overall stat line 8.33 K/9 and 2.78 ERA look pretty good but Cruz was getting very lucky and allowing a lot of base runners posting a 1.63 WHIP. When the Pirates released Cruz it surprised some people but in all reality he wasn’t pitching all that good. Still Cruz had a certain magic to him that allowed him to tip toe out a few tight spots and was certainly worth picking up off the scrap heap this past offseason as an NRI. Essentially Cruz like Resop was an average middle relief pitcher and really there is nothing wrong with that. The Pirates will likely look top pick up another pitcher like Cruz on the scrap heap again this offseason and if they pitch like Cruz did this season it should be considered a success. For the record he inherited 7 runners and allowed only 1 to score for a 14.3% rate. Cruz wasn’t really good but he wasn’t bad either Overall Grade: C
The Rest: The Pirates had another 106.1 innings pitched out of the pen that was picked up by 15 different pitchers. None of them pitched more than 13.2 innings (Qualls) and two of them (McCutchen and McDonald) didn’t even manage to record an out. Rather than go over each one individually I figured I’d lump them all together here. Qualls (13.2 IP) was pretty bad out of the pen but advanced numbers suggest he was unlucky (6.59 ERA, 3.94 xFIP), still his tiny 3.95 K/9 is a red flag. Doug Slaten (13.0 IP) was decent out of the pen but was a little lucky and overall looked like a pretty fungible average lefty relief pitcher. Evan Meek (12.0 IP) was down right awful out of the pen in his limited chances but did pitch rather well in AAA, regardless he is now a free agent and the Pirates have no reason to look at bringing him back. Kyle McPherson (11.2 IP) showed some good things in his limited time in the bullpen which led to him getting a few starts near the end of the season. Chris Leroux (11.1 IP) put up some bad numbers in limited action from the bullpen but pitched far better than those numbers would indicate and appears to be in line for the long relief job in next year’s bullpen. Kevin Correia’s (10.1 IP) time in the bullpen was pretty much like his time in the rotation, mediocre, he wasn’t bad but not good either just decent. Hisanori Takahashi (8.1 IP) posted a good strike out rate (11.88 K/9) but was overall rather bad in his limited action; he is a free agent and probably won’t be brought back. Jeff Karstens (7.1 IP) didn’t get a lot of time in the bullpen but did pitch some average innings out of it late in the season. Bryan Morris (5.0 IP) amazingly pitched very sparingly out of the bullpen this season. Morris is out of options so the Pirates will either need to wave him in 2013 or put him on the roster but yet they really choose not to take much of a look at him. For the record he was fairly good in his 5 innings of work and had a good season in AAA; he should be in the opening day bullpen next season. Justin Wilson (4.2 IP) was a starter in AAA this season but pitched only relief with the Pirates and he did fairly well in his limited opportunities. The Pirates seem to want to keep him starting so he’ll probably return to AAA next season but does have a chance of winning a bullpen job out fo spring training. Jeff Locke (4.1 IP) came up for a fairly odd stint with the Pirates bullpen in which they only intended to use him for long relief so as to not mess up his pitching schedule I guess. Regardless he didn’ allow a run in his brief time and held runners to an absurd .077 BABIP of course nothing can be drawn from that and Locke will of course return to starting next season whether it be in the majors or at AAA. Rick VandenHurk (2.2 IP) got called up to the majors in September on the strength of a good showing in AAA but really didn’t get to show much while with the team. His 2.2 innings weren’t great though he did show he could miss some bats but VandenHurk looks like a possible cut to free up space on the 40 man roster. Wandy Rodriguez (2.0 IP) threw only 2 innings of relief this season and I bet most of you remember those two innings, Rodriguez came in to pitch the 18th and 19th innings of the Pirates 19 inning marathon win over the St Louis Cardinals. For what it is worth he pitched well in those 2 innings and as a starter seemed to settle in nicely with the Pirates rotation after this appearance. Daniel McCutchen (0.0 IP) failed to record an out this season in his only appearance but faced only 2 batters. Considering he wasn’t even called up in September McCutchen is a candidate to be cut this offseason. Finally we have James McDonald (0.0 IP) who liked McCutchen didn’t record a single out but faced 4 batters in the process. At the time he was pitching in relief McDonald had pretty much lost it so there is little surprise he failed to record an out. Hopefully his demotion to the bullpen is just a blip on the radar as McDonald should return to the rotation next season.
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.