By: Noah Wright
The Pirates have gotten off to a surprising start, going 28-24 to start the season. They’ve even held first place at one point. While The Bucs have been on a downturn, losing 3 straight series, they are still in a good spot. Management has been more reluctant to pull the trigger on guys, like George Kontos after blowing a few holds, but still are stubborn on some other decisions. If The Pirates can do the following, they can easily sustain their success, and stay in contention
1.) Stop starting Gregory Polanco every day.
I think Gregory Polanco is a good teammate, and has shown the potential to be just as good of a player, but until he can start picking it up, Polanco should not be starting every day. So far on the season, the right fielder has hit .209/.324/.424 in 205 PA’s. He’s also not helping too much with his glove, with -5 DRS, -.8 defensive WAR, and a very uncharacteristic -3.6 UZR. He’s also made 85.3% contact with pitches inside the strike zone, a career low since 2014 (his rookie year). Right now, rookie top prospect Austin Meadows has shown he deserves everyday playing time. In his first 30 PA’s, Meadows has hit .433/.433/.867 with 3 homeruns. Until Meadows cools down, or Polanco starts to show he deserves playing time, Meadows should get the nod until further notice.
2.) Stop giving Michael Feliz so many late inning opportunities, and let one of the better options try a later role a few times.
Michael Feliz was one of the pitchers The Pirates got in return for Gerrit Cole. On the season, Feliz has an increased 5.31 ERA, along with a 4.09 walks/9 rate, and .327 opponent babip. Feliz also lost the game on Sunday giving up 3 runs, 2 walks, 1 hit, and only getting one out until Felipe Vasquez had to come in, and try (but failed) to clean up his mess. Until Feliz figures things out, he should be regulated to a middle-relief/low leverage role, and Richard Rodriguez should see more action in Feliz’s former role. Rich-Rod has been lights out this season, with a miniscule 1.40 ERA, 1.086 WHIP, 1.4 walk/9 rate, and a robust 14.4 K/9 rate, in 19.1 innings of work. In all the games Rodriguez has played, 6 out of the 19 he’s pitched in, The Pirates were either winning, or losing by 3 or more runs. Kyle Crick, who The Pirates got in return for Andrew McCutchen from The Giants, has also pitched well, and deserves more action in later innings.
3.) Use some of the young players that have performed, and stop relying on Jameson Taillon and Ivan Nova as much.
Nick Kingham, who showed he has all-star potential, has been recalled from triple-A, and optioned back to the minors twice, while Jameson Taillon, and Ivan Nova continue to underperform. While both have showed ace potential in the past, The Pirates rely too much on them to carry the rotation. While both have shown ace potential a few times this year, both right now have an ERA over 4.50, and FIP’s over 4. I also hope that they leave Joe Musgrove in the rotation, so long as he is performing good.
4.) Do something about the bench.
Right now, The Pirates’ best bench bat is Elias Diaz, and while he’s performing very well with the bat, he is an outlier to other bench bats. Corner infield/outfielder Jose Osuna has showed potential at the major league level, and is performing very well at Triple-A, batting .359/.409/.628 in 89 PA’s. Sean Rodriguez also should be regulated to just a late inning defensive replacement role. The Pirates also do not have any lefty bench power, with Adam Frazier being the only lefty on the bench. It would not hurt to sign first baseman/left fielder Adam Lind to a one year deal to help the bench.
5.) At the deadline, get a solid starter.
I’m not saying they should dump every prospect they have into acquiring Clayton Kershaw if The Dodgers’ keep losing, and decide to sell off some pieces, but get someone who can help their rotation. Like I said earlier, they need to stop relying so much on Ivan Nova and Jameson Taillon, and let some of the young guys pitch. But they could also add a guy who can eat some innings, and do it effectively. Rangers will likely be looking to trade Bartolo Colon by the deadline, if they haven’t already. He’d be a cheap pitcher who would not cost a big prospect names. A’s Trevor Cahill is also in a situation like Colon, has performed well, and would cost just about the same as Colon.
The Pirates hot start has caught the attention some attention, as the fans,including me they were predicted to not even be close to where they are right now. They’ve done this by pulling the trigger on players before it was too late, like George Kontos being DFA'd after struggling, and moving Edgar Santana into his former role. But they need to do more in order to sustain this success, and they have the opportunity to further build off of it as well.