By: Noah Wright
Matthew Stockman/Getty Images
The Pirates are currently without a direct bridge for Gregory Polanco. After undergoing knee surgery, The Pirates don’t have a direct temporary replacement in right field. This is also an issue they’ve faced before, as they have not had a 4th outfielder since Matt Joyce in 2016, and not a good fielding 4th outfielder since 2015 with Travis Snider. And so, I think the perfect solution for this is Gerardo Parra.
The first thing I want to point out is his price. The Rockies will likely not give him $12 million for 2019, and will instead buyout his contract. I feel The Pirates can get him for a similar price of his buyout price of $6 million.
Now let’s look at the assets he’ll bring with him. The first and most notable one he will carry to Pittsburgh is his fielding prowess, and experience in all 3 outfield positions. This season he’s mainly served as The Rockies left fielder, but saw 70 and two thirds innings in right field. In total, he was worth 6 DRS, 2.0 UZR, and .1 defensive WAR. Parra also had 9 outfield assists this year, along with a 1.1 outfield arm runs above average. His bat, while not one to bring 15-20 home runs to the team, won’t hurt the team. Parra finished the season with a .284/.342/.372 batting line with only 6 home runs, and 53 RBI’s. However what I do want to point out is the fact that he made hard contact 34.1% of the time, which is a near career high.
While Parra does hit for a decent average, and gets on base at a good enough clip, there’s 3 things that will make him more valuable to The Pirates than a handful of other teams: his bat in clutch situations this year, his success against NL central teams, and his spit’s away from Coors. Now this season, Parra is one player you would have wanted to bat when you needed to drive in a run. In the 114 times he stepped to the plate with men in scoring position, Parra hit for a .321/.407/.421 line. When there were just men on base in general, he hit .314/.386/.399. Then when the game is close and late, Parra has a .299 batting average. Even throughout his career, Parra isn’t a bad clutch hitter. With RISP, he’s got a career average of .271; with men on base he hits for a .290 average. So with him having the ability to be a clutch hitter, that could boost The Pirates above the mid-way point of RBI’s with RISP, as they ranked #16 last year. The next thing, while a bit surprising, is that he learned how to not rely on The Coors Factor. While he may have been using The Coors Factor to boost his numbers before this season, his 3rd year in Colorado displayed a better batting average and OPS away than at home. But probably the most valuable thing that he would bring to The Bucs is his success against NL Central teams. Against The Chicago Cubs, Parra has a .283 average; against The Cardinals he has a .290 average, and a .490 slugging %; against The Brewers he has a .298 average; against The Reds, he has a .297 average and .455 slugging %. But against The Pirates?; a .249 average, and .307 OBP.
It seems like a perfect fit for The Pirates. They get a decent bridge the gap kind of player until Polanco is ready to go, a guy that can hit for a decent average, get on base, hit in clutch situations, and someone that can hit teams that are in their own division hard is more than enough reason for The Pirates to go after him. That, along with the fact that they could probably get him for around $5-$6 million, investing in Gerardo Parra should be one of The Pirates goals over the off season.
By: Noah Wright
Justin Berl/Getty Images
It seems like The Pirates dealt Mark Melancon this season, even though it was 2 seasons ago. When they decided to deal Melancon off to The Nationals, I thought it was a bad move. After all, they did trade one of the top closers in the game for some mid-level prospect, and a left hander that had an ERA over 4.50. But looking back on it, I was extremely wrong that this was a bad trade, and I think that this is one of the best trades The Pirates have made in the last 3-5 years. With that, let's re-examine the trade that sent Mark Melancon to The Nationals, and Felipe Rivero to The Pirates.
It was July 30th, a day before the trade deadline, and The Pirates could’ve been at best a 2nd Wild Card team. They were 9.5 out of the division, but still 3 out of a WC spot. That was enough for the team to deal right handed closer Mark Melancon to The Washington Nationals. At the time, Melancon was a top closer in The Majors, but on the last year of his contract. He well deserved the title of top 3 closer, for he had a 1.51 ERA, 2.67 FIP, and .960 WHIP. It was his 3rd out his his last 4 seasons with an ERA under 2. Along with that, he was limiting walks to a 1.9 BB/9 rate, striking out batters at a healthy 8.2 K/9 rate, and batters were making hard contact 25.5% of the time, .5 more than his career low. So with an expiring contract, and not in direct contention, The Pirates decided to trade Melancon for two left handed pitchers. One being Felipe Rivero, and the other being Taylor Hearn. But why did The Nationals do this trade? Well The Nationals were had a 5 game division lead on The Marlins, and had a struggling bullpen. Then closer Jonathan Papelbon had been struggling, along with Felipe Rivero and Oliver Perez. They needed a shutdown closer they could rely on with playoff experience.
For their top rated closer, The Pirates received Felipe Rivero (now Felipe Vazquez), a struggling young lefty who had a plus fastball, and single-A prospect Taylor Hearn. Let’s take a look at Rivero first. The 24 year old was in his sophomore year of the majors. He had previously performed as a solid left hander out of the pen for The Nats in 2015, having an ERA of 2.79, FIP of 2.64, and WHIP of .952. Plus he had kept walks at a rate of 2.0 per 9, and home runs to just .4 per 9. 2016, well, wasn’t going so smoothly for him. In 49 and two thirds innings for The Nats, Rivero had a 4.53 ERA, 1.168 WHIP, but still kept his FIP to 3.27. Hearn, a then 21 year old, was drafted by The Nationals a year prior. He had spent all of his time in single-A, and had produced a 3.18 ERA, while showing a good fastball, and solid control.
So how does this trade look now in 2018? Well for starters, it’s clear that The Pirates were the victors of this trade. Melancon did produce well for his time with The Nationals, giving them a 1.82 ERA, 2.07 FIP, and kept walks to a .9 rate. But he didn’t help them go deep into the playoffs. He only gave The Nationals 34 innings of baseball, while Felipe Vazquez has developed into an all-star closer. It only makes the trade worse on The Nationals end knowing that The Pirates got Keone Kela for Hearn. Kela had done very well in his first 15 and a third innings in Pittsburgh, and he’s on a team friendly deal through the 2020 season. On the other hand, The Pirates extended Vazquez through 2023 season on, like Kela, a team friendly contract.
By: Noah Wright
Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images
The Pirates probably outperformed most baseball fan’s expectations. They’re 2 wins away from having an above .500 season, and their first .500+ season since 2015. But this season’s success couldn’t have been done if it wasn’t for the team’s pitching staff. The bullpen has gotten plenty of attention, but the rotation is one of the most underrated rotations entering 2019, and here’s why.
The Pirates haven’t had an ace level pitcher since 2015 when they had Gerrit Cole, Francisco Liriano, and A.J. Burnett, but the former prospect, Jameson Taillon has finally been the pitcher The Pirates were hoping he’d eventually become. Taillon has a 3.16 ERA, 3.48 FIP, and 1.178 WHIP in 185 innings. He’s also carried a healthy 8.4 K/9 rate, while lowering his BB/9 rate from 3.1 last season to 2.2 this year. But what he has done that makes him an ace is his last 21 consecutive starts have seen him give up 3 earned runs or less, showing that he’s easily giving The Bucs a chance to win.
The #2 and #3
The #2 and #3 could probably be flipped flopped depending on who you’re asking, but I would put Trevor Williams behind Taillon for multiple reasons. Some reasons may include the fact that he has a 3.04 ERA, or 2.8 BB/9 rate, an MLB career low. Or maybe it’s because of his below .700 OPS against both left handed batters and right handed batters alike. But the real reason I would put him #2 is because of his second half performance. In 66 and two thirds innings, Williams has given The Pirates a 1.06 ERA, .990 WHIP, and 3.02 FIP post break. The third pitcher The Pirates will utilize next season is likely going to be Ivan Nova. Nova’s 4.19 ERA, or 4.57 FIP in 161 innings may not look pretty, but his 2.0 BB/9 walk rate, and one of his lowest hard hit rates (31.5) is what should be looked at. However after a DL stint back in late May, early June, Nova has gone off to record a much better looking 3.71 ERA in 99 and a third innings. His numbers would look even better if his last wasn’t one of his worst since the injury. Nova could easily be a much better pitcher if he just could control the long ball, which he’s given up 26 times.
Saying that Chris Archer is your likely #4 starters is pretty nice. Sure, Archer hasn’t been an ace since 2015, and wasn’t even one after the trade to Pittsburgh, but after a rough first few starts, Archer started to look much better in September. In his 30 innings in September, Archer went on to record a 2.70 ERA, 3.45 ERA, and 1.067 FIP. If Archer can carry that kind of performance, or at least something within the range of a 3.00-3.50 ERA, a FIP similar to that, Archer could be a very valuable asset for The Pirates, and maybe even make-up for the guys they had to give up, and the rough starts in July and August. The #5 starter will more than likely be Joe Musgrove. Musgrove, one of the pieces The Pirates picked up in The Gerrit Cole deal, has been a solid pitcher for the team. He has an overall ERA of 4.06, a decent FIP of 3.58, and WHIP of 1.179 in 115.1 innings of work, and all 19 games coming as a starter. Plus he’s been one of The Pirates best control starters. Joe lowered his walk rate from last year’s 2.3 BB/9 to 1.8 BB/9, while also giving up 18 home runs last season, to 12 home runs in more innings.
The Pirates don’t have the best rotation in The MLB or National League, but it’s one that can easily be overlooked. However if The Pirates want to win next season, their pitching staff, both bullpen and rotation, should be things to build off of next season.
By: Noah Wright
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Taking a look back at The Pirates 2018 season, it’s truly been a shocking season. I had no real expectations for this team, and thought that making .500+ would be a miracle. However, it’s now early September, and they’re sitting right at the .500 mark, and earlier in the season, even looked like competitors. Now looking ahead at the 2019 season, it’s looking a lot brighter than I thought it would 4 months ago. Now that they could potentially look like competitors next year, let’s take a look at different aspects of The Pirates team, and some problems they could take a look at over the off-season.
Catching was one of many questions entering the season, both offensively and defensively. Francisco Cervelli and Elias Diaz combined to throw out only 23% of runners trying to take a base on them, and both looked like offensive liabilities entering 2018. Diaz’s OPS was a very low .579, while Cervelli’s was an unimpressive .712. However, now it looks like The Pirates have a very good catching tandem entering next year. The veteran Cervelli currently is batting a healthy .260/.387/.432 with 11 home runs and has a 128 wRC+. Diaz has also been pretty impressive; batting .286/.336/.444 with 9 home runs and has 113 wRC+. Defense has also been sured up behind the plate, as they’ve caught 36% of runners trying to steal on them. The big question for Cervelli this season was his health. He missed most of 2016 and 2017 with injuries, but with the time share between him and Diaz, he’s been able to stay healthy most of the season, and now can rest easy some days, now that Diaz has started to prove he can be reliable behind the dish, and help Cervelli preserve his health.
Josh Bell was one of the bright spots of 2017, but hasn’t looked himself in 2018. After blasting 25 home runs, and finishing with a .800 OPS, Bell has seemed to suffer from a sophomore slump in 2018, however I do feel that he could bounce back next year in the power department, and maybe even add some batting average, as he’s been able to show the ability that he can get his average into the .260’s this season. At third base, The Pirates had a pretty good platoon of the young left handed batter Colin Moran, and right handed veteran David Freese. However, Freese was dealt at The September deadline, but The Pirates do have an upcoming option in the form of Jose Osuna. Osuna has mainly been a first baseman and corner outfielder in his time in the minors, but saw a handful of games at third base this season, and even got some good reviews there. So it seems that they’ll use a Osuna/Moran platoon at third base next season, but could bring in another option if need be.
This season, The Pirates have used Josh Harrison and Jordy Mercer at second base and shortstop. While it’s no surprise that after the season, The Pirates probably won’t resign Jordy Mercer (who’s on the last year of his contract), but it is a slight surprise that they may not pick up the $10 million dollar option in Harrison’s contract. Harrison has struggled this season, both offensively and defensively, and I do see the reason why that they may heavily consider picking it up. But while any Pirate fan (including me) will be sad to see Harrison leave Pittsburgh, The Pirates have it covered with a Seinfeld Middle infield duo of Kevin Newman and Kevin Kramer. Another option they can place up the middle is utility man Adam Frazier, who’s been a spark plug since being recalled from the minors.
The outfield has been one of the strong suits for The Pirates this season. The new guy, Corey Dickerson, has fit in well both offensively and defensively with The Pirates. He may have taken a dip in performance as of recently, but he’s still batting a solid .290/.319/.451, and ranks positively in DRS (13), UZR (7.2) and defensive WAR (.9). After trading McCutchen, The Pirates have utilized the speedy Starting Marte in center. Offensively, he’s been very good, batting .278/.322/.455 with 18 home runs, and 31 stolen bases. However in his new position, Marte has been decent, but not too impressive. He currently has 0 DRS, 1.6 UZR, and worth .2 defensive WAR. But a few weeks ago, there were questions about his effort level, as he’s been seen not running out ground balls, with it leading to him being benched for a few games. In right field, Gregory Polanco has actually been good this season. After a freezing cold start to the 2018 season, Polanco has batted .281/.354/.547 with 15 home runs, 56 RBI’s, and 9 stolen bases in 318 plate appearances since June. Overall, Polanco has batted .254/.340/.499 with 23 home runs, 81 RBI’s, and 12 stolen bases. One thing that Polanco needs to solve for next year is his fielding, and base running decisions. Polanco may have one of the best outfield arms in The MLB this season, but he currently is worth -1.1 defensively in right field, and has been criticized before for making many many base running errors, and the said base running errors have also been one of Marte’s weaknesses. If The Pirates can fix the base running, they can have a very good 3 in the grass.
The starting rotation has been one of The Pirates stronger suits this season. Their best pitcher this season has probably been Jameson Taillon. The 26 year old righty has played in 164 innings, and producing a 3.40 ERA, 3.57 FIP, and 1.213 WHIP. He’s also gotten better control of his pitches, lowering his walks/9 from 3.1 to 2.2. His biggest weakness has to be his ability to keep the ball in the park. He currently has a 1.0 HR/9 rate, and I feel with a bit of work and mentoring, he could probably lower that. Another impressive piece of their rotation has been Trevor Williams. Williams has pitched in 148 innings to a tune of a 3.15 ERA, and 1.177 WHIP. While his FIP may be 4.16, he could lower that by getting more control of his pitches. He currently has a 3.0 BB/9 rate, however he’s seemed to find more control recently, giving up only 17 walks, and impressively 4 earned runs in his last 54.2 innings. Their veteran starter this season has been Ivan Nova. While Nova hasn’t particularly been impressive, owning a 4.35 ERA, and 4.71 FIP, he’s only allowed 1.9 walks/9 innings. Nova could be better next season if he learns how to keep the ball in the park, like Taillon. Their starter with the most control with his pitches has been Joe Musgrove. A piece they received in The Gerrit Cole deal over the winter, Musgrove has been just fine coming off the DL early in the season, and slotting right in the rotation for The Bucs. He’s given them 103.1 innings and a 3.75 ERA, 3.77 FIP, and 1.181 WHIP. He’s only allowed 1.8 walks/9 as well, showing he’s a very good control pitcher. One thing The Pirates did at the deadline was buy some pieces (I know, crazy), and one of those pieces was Chris Archer. I had previously looked at the Archer trade in a video, and while his overall numbers in Pittsburgh haven’t been great (5.47 ERA, 4.23 FIP, 1.456 WHIP), he has performed better as of lately. Before giving up a three run home run in his last inning of work last night, Archer had a .77 ERA in his 11.2 innings before that last third of an inning. With Archer, many Pirate fans are hoping that he’ll find a groove in Pittsburgh, since they had to give up some guys that carried some value with them. The biggest problem with the rotation as a whole has been the long ball. If they can reduce the amount of home runs they can give up, this rotation could be one to look out for in 2019.
The bullpen has probably been the best part of The Pirates this season, and I don’t think many fans saw that happening. Entering the season, there were a bunch of uncertainties; how would Edgar Santana perform, how would Kyle Crick do in his first year in The Burgh after The Cutch trade, will Michael Feliz be any good; and most of them performed well. Edgar Santana and Kyle Crick have been two of The Buc’s most reliable set-up options, with minor league signee Richard Rodriguez having a very good breakout year. Then at the deadline, The Pirates further bolstered their bullpen, adding Keone Kela, The former Texas Ranger closer, who’s done very well since coming to Pennsylvania. After a questionable start to the season, Felipe Vazquez (formerly Felipe Rivero) found his grove from last season, and has pitched very well since. Long relief wise, The Pirates have plenty of options for next year. The most notable will likely be Chad Kuhl, who will likely be the odd man out once he comes off the DL next year. Some other options they have is Nick Kingham, Steven Brault, and Clay Holmes. Overall, if their main pitchers (i.e. Vazquez, Santana, Rodriguez, Crick, Kela) can perform like they have this season, The Pirates will have a bullpen that can easily lockdown leads in 2019.
In The Pipeline:
I’ve already mentioned Kevin Newman/Kramer, two prospects who could make an impact next season, but I want to go over some other prospects that could make an impact in 2019. The most notable is Mitch Keller, however since he’s struggled in his limited time in Triple-A this season, he may stay there for the first month or two before he gets a call to the majors (unless injury occurs). Another prospect that could make his debut next season is Ke’Bryan Hayes, however that’s assuming that he starts the year in Triple-A, and performs well.
Problems To Be Addressed:
The biggest problem I think The Pirates need to look at is their bench. Their bench will mainly look like this next season: Adam Frazier, Moran/Osuna, Cervelli/Diaz, and a mixture of Jordan Luplow, Max Moroff, Alex Reyes, or one of Kevin Newman/Kramer if they pick up Harrison’s 2019 option. When you look at it, their bench doesn’t really have that power hitter they could use. One option that I’d like to see them take a look at is Mark Reynolds. Reynolds has done very well in a bench role he’s played over in Washington, and is also a fairly clutch hitter (.295/.382/.659 line with RISP), another thing that they should take a look at. They could also use an actual 4th outfielder with defense. While Osuna and Frazier can play outfield, and Jordan Luplow is an outfielder, none of them are truly good at the corners. That’s when Gerardo Parra comes into play. It’s likely that after the season, The Rockies will buyout Para for $1.5 milion rather than pay him $12 million for next season. While he may not carry much of an overall bat, he performs very well against right handed pitchers (.301/.359/.399 this season), and has been pretty good in leftfield, with experience in both center field and right field. Like Reynolds, Para does well in clutch situations with a .337/.408/.446 with RISP this season. With that, I think a bench of Frazier, Moran/Osuna, Cervelli/Diaz, Mark Reynolds, and Gerardo Parra is plausible, even with the limited budget The Pirates have. Coaching decisions is another thing that has to be looked at, or something has to change. I’d be very surprised if The Pirates outright released Clint Hurdle out of his new extension, but he’s made some questionable decisions with pitching this season that can easily be fixed. The biggest is his stubbornness to pull pitchers from games. Sometimes, Hurdle leaves starters in games (some even crucial to the season) too long, which has either costed them leads or even games. One many examples of this is the game right before The All Star Break. Joe Musgrove had fired 7 strong innings, only giving up 2 runs, and his pitch count was running high. Sure, the bullpen may have been tired from the previous day’s double header, but it was right before The All Star Break, and The Pirates were making a decent push, winning 5 straight. However instead of putting in a relief pitcher, Hurdle and co. lets Musgrove pitch into the 8th with the game tied 2-2, even though he’s running his pitch count high. Musgrove goes on to give up 3 runs that inning, but The Pirates were able to come back, and walk it off, luckily. This happened again a few days ago. After pitching 5 innings of shutout ball against The Marlins, Hurdle and co. march Chris Archer out for a 6th inning. After struggling to get two outs, and visibly tired, Archer gives up a 3 run home run, giving up the 2 run lead The Pirates had previously. The Pirates went on to win that game too, but the game was almost lost over a questionable decision. One decision coaching made that did cost them the game was a move made by Joey Cora, the team’s third base coach. The game was against The Padres. The Pirates are down by one in the top of the 9th with the tying run, Gregory Polanco, at third base and one out. Jordy Mercer hits a fly ball to fairly deep right field. Hunter Renfroe catches the ball, stumbles a bit since he bumped into the wall, and fires home, but Polanco doesn’t tag. While it’s not clear whether Cora told Polanco to stay, or tag and Polanco didn’t go, Cora said that he told Polanco to go half way. Marte came up to bat next, and struck out ending the game. Small coaching decisions like this have costed The Pirates games and runs, however, they’re questionable decisions even fans have pointed out. These next few things may not be high priority, but should be something they should put on the back burner. The first thing is find a left handed bullpen guy. The Pirates have 2 lefties in their bullpen: Felipe Vazquez and Steven Brault. It would be nice to see them get another left handed bullpen guy such as Jake Diekman or former Pirate Zach Duke as a LOOGY guy they can put in. The second thing is do something with Michael Feliz. Feliz hasn’t looked very impressive in his first year in Pittsburgh. He has a 6.05 ERA, 4.28 FIP, and 1.560 WHIP in 41 and two thirds innings, and gives up a ton of home runs (1.3 HR/9) and walks (4.1 BB/9). While I don’t think The Pirates will pull another Daniel Hudson-for-Corey Dickerson, they should look into moving him; whether that’s trading him, or even outright releasing him if he starts next season struggling out of the gate.
In conclusion, I do think The Pirates have a chance at being a Wild Card contender, and if a lot of things go right for them, maybe even make a push for the division. However there are still some hurdles they need to pass before they can solidify themselves to a contender to me. But in the end, those hurdles aren’t hard to pass. Sign a few cheap players, make some better choices, and limit the long ball are the largest I that stand in the way, with one of the minor ones being fixing baserunning. If they do that, The Pirates may be looking at a playoff push in 2019.
By: Noah Wright
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
The Pirates arguably had one of the best deadlines this season. They were able to acquire decent, and controllable MLB talent without having to deplete the farm system. However, they entered July looking like a sub-.500 team. So now that it’s been a little over a week since the deadline, how have the trades they’ve made helped the team overall.
The Pirates big move was acquiring former Rays’ starter Chris Archer. For Archer, they had to give up Tyler Glasnow, and former top prospect Austin Meadows. Meadows was the only piece that I was not happy to see leave, but The Rays were not willing to deal Archer without Meadows included. Before coming to Pittsburgh, Archer had a 4.31 ERA, 3.76 FIP, 2.9 walk rate, and struck out 9.6 batters per 9. However, he was pitching in a hitter friendly park in a division that held the two best teams in baseball, along with The DH. Another thing that adds to Archer’s contract is that he’s affordably controllable through 2021. The first piece in the deal was Tyler Glasnow. Glasnow had shown that he struggles with control problems with a 5.5 BB/9 rate this season. He does have a 11.6 K/9 rate, and .8 home run/9 rate with The Bucs too over 56 innings of work. Meadows was a prospect that many considered McCutchen’s replacement, and he looked good in the first few weeks he was in the majors. However once Marte, Dickerson, and Polanco all started to perform very well, he seemed like the odd man out. He fell into a slump after not receiving much playing time, and was eventually optioned to triple-A. If The Pirates want to compete, they’ve finally shown that they’re willing to part with some prospects to acquire MLB talent. If Archer can perform well now that he’s in a much more pitcher friendly situation, he could be the #2, or even ace level pitcher that we’ve been able to see Archer perform at before. The starting rotation was fairly solid before Archer got to Pittsburgh. Jose Musgove, Ivan Nova, Jameson Taillon, Trevor Williams, and Nick Kingham were all doing a good enough job, however now that The Pirates have a decent rotation anchor, their starting pitching looks even better.
Kela was The Rangers closer before The Pirates acquired the hard throwing right hander. In return for Kela, The Rangers received prospect Taylor Hearn. Kela was having a nice season, with a 3.44 ERA, 2.97 FIP, 10.8 K/9 rate, and 3.4 walk rate in 38 and two thirds innings down south. He, like Archer, is affordably controlled through 2021. Hearn was originally acquired by The Pirates in the trade that sent Mark Melancon to The Nationals for Felipe Rivero/Vasquez, and Hearn. Hearn has spent all 104 innings in Altoona Double-A. The 23 year old has been a fairly nice prospect so far, with a 3.55, 3.21 FIP, 9.3 K/9 rate, and 3.3 walk rate. Bullpen was a major concern for The Pirates entering the season, and even into early July. Edgar Santana, Kyle Crick, and Felipe Vasquez/Rivero were all doing very well when The Pirates acquired Kela, but had some ups and downs to start the season. Michael Feliz was also struggling for The Pirates before he was optioned to Triple-A. Minor league signee Rich Rodriguez has been having a good season, and for a while was arguably their best bullpen piece. Once Kela joined the bullpen, he’ll join a very good 6th-7th-8th-9th inning bullpen handoff.
The Pirates trades were overall decent. It’s even arguable that they had the best deadline this season. Chris Archer and Keone Kela further solidify a pitching staff that has seen its fair share of struggles through the early part of the season, and still had some questions in July. Even if they do not make a playoff spot this season, the pieces they acquired are controllable for a handful of years, so if they do decent this season, it’s very possible that they could further add throughout the off season.
By: Noah Wright
Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports
The Pittsburgh Pirates have fallen to a 40-45. Far from the 26-17 record they started the season with through the first month and a half. They’re last 2 series wins were against The Padres and The Mets. It’s even gotten so bad that they can barely even put up a fight against good teams, as shown by the depressing 1-17 loss to The Dodgers last night, and 3-8 loss tonight against The Dodgers. Their last series win against a team above .500 was against The Giants back in early/mid-May. I’ve previously pointed out flaws in their roster, however there are tons of problems with the way they play their players. The Pirates refuse to evolve to the new game, and not only does this affect their overall play, but also hurts their players.
The main problem I want to mention their pitching strategies. In the book, “Big Data Baseball”, which is mainly about how The Pirates made the playoffs for the first time in 20 years in 2013, mentioned how they used the shift, and pitching to the shift/contact to win games. According to the author, Travis Sawchik, The Pirates 494 times in 2013, with only 2 teams (The Cubs and Brewers) shifting on batters more often than The Pirates that season. While the shift is still a large part of the game today, The Pirates still rely on the shift more than the K in an era where strikeouts and overpowering the batter is king, at least when it comes to their starters. This is evident by The Pirates 7.51 K’s per game rate, with only The Royals below them in K’s/game. The Bucs’ K/9 rate ranks just 17th of all MLB teams at 8.42. The only team that is in a playoff spot with a lower K/9 ratio is The Cubs at 8.35 K/9. Their pitching to contact strategies are also hurting some of their young pitchers. Nick Kingham had an amazing 2 first games in the majors, and had 16 K’s in his first 12 and a third innings pitched. And he pitched great in those 12 and a third innings. However since then, Kingham has struck out just 21 batters in 26 innings played. Jameson Taillon consistently had K/9 numbers near or above 9 K/9, but hasn’t recorded a K/9 above 8.4 since reaching the majors. While Joe Musgrove’s K/9 numbers haven’t really changed, his spike from 30.2% hard hit rate last year to 33.1% hard hit rate this season, and .7% ground ball rate increase it shows that they want him to pitch to the shift/contact. In today’s game where hard contact and the long ball are the norm, pitching to contact over avoiding can hurt a team.
So who’s really to blame here? I’d say coaching. The Pirates coaching can sometimes be extremely stubborn. Multiple times you will watch Clint Hurdle let a pitcher let a game get out of hand before pulling him. Hurdle also marched out Gregory Polanco on a regular basis, even when he was struggling mightily, and had much better options in Corey Dickerson and Austin Meadows. Their stubbornness leads to multiple games lost, and this is no exception. Coaching refuses to move on, which is their biggest downfall.
The Pirates are still using strategies that worked in 2013-2014. However, that was 4-5 seasons ago. The game has evolved. It’s a hard contact and home run game for batters, and the 95+ mph fastball and high K rate game for pitchers. With The Pirates’ strategies to continue to pitch to contact, and refusal to change anytime soon, they will continue to lose, and affect their starters in a negative way until they change. Either The Pirates evolve with the game, or the game evolves and leaves them behind.
(If you enjoy baseball and/or any kind of statistical analysis, then checkout the book I mentioned in this article, “Big Data Baseball” by Travis Sawchik: https://www.amazon.com/Big-Data-Baseball-Miracles-20-Year/dp/1250094259/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1530685272&sr=8-1&keywords=Big+Data+Baseball )
By: Noah Wright
Mark Alberti/Icon Sportswire
The Pirates are currently 35-36 on the season. They started the season very strong, but have fallen off the last month or so. After this fall-off, some fans have called for a rebuild, while others have called for The Bucs to be buyers at this upcoming deadline. I’m here to discuss why they should rebuild, should not rebuild, and what I think they should do.
First, I want to bring up points on why they should rebuild. The Pirates are currently 7 games out of the division. They still have a shot at the division, but it is a very outside shot, as things stand right now. Plus The Bucs have a handful of controllable players that could bring back some decent young pieces. This includes Francisco Cervelli, and Ivan Nova, both who are controlled for the rest of this season, and next season. Corey Dickerson will also be controllable through 2019 with an arbitration year. Josh Harrison has the most club control, as he has club options for the 2019 and 2020 seasons. Harrison and Dickerson would likely bring back the most in a trade, because of the amount of control they have, and their performance this season. With a rebuild, The Pirates could be competitive again in a year or so.
Next I want to bring up why they shouldn’t rebuild. As I stated before, some of The Pirates biggest names still have a few years of club control left. They’re also just 3 and a half games out of a WC spot. Most of their core is fairly young, and talented as well. Colin Moran has had a decent season so far, and so has young pitchers Nick Kingham, and Joe Musgrove. Chad Kuhl and Jameson Taillon have been somewhat inconsistent, but both have been much better their last 4 games. Though newly extended closer Felipe Vazquez (formerly Felipe Rivero) has been inconsistent this year, but was amazing last year. Though first baseman Josh Bell seems to be suffering a sophomore slump this year, he performed very well last year as a rookie, and even finishing third place in ROY voting, showing he can handle himself at the major league level. While Gregory Polanco has struggled this year, top prospect Austin Meadows has been amazing this year. The team’s offense all together has been very good this year. Right now, they have the 8th most runs scored per game on average in The MLB, and 4th in The NL. Plus The Pirates aren’t in a situation like The Baltimore Orioles, who’s best players (Manny Machado, and Adam Jones) are on the last year of their contracts, so there shouldn’t be a rush to get players out the door yet. To add on, The Pirates still have an ok farm system. Mitch Keller is a season or so away to being major league ready. Kevin Kramer and Kevin Newman will likely receive a major league call-up very soon, as both have done very well in triple-A. With enough control over their best players to be competitive this year, depth in the farm right now, and showing some offensive promise, The Pirates should not be in a hurry to trade players, and completely tear down.
So what do I think? I don’t think The Pirates should go into full rebuild mode yet. At the deadline, I think they should trade from the lower end of their prospects to acquire some cheap relief pitching. At the most, The Pirates should trade off some of their veteran players like Jordy Mercer, who’s on the last year of his contract, and get whatever they can out of David Freese. This could help get some of the younger guys in the minors, Newman, Kramer and Jose Osuna (though Osuna already has some experience) get some/more major league experience this year. If and when they do decide to rebuild, I think it should be either during this off season, or early next season, around the time The Rays’ traded Alex Colome to The Mariners.
By: Noah Wright
Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports
This year, The Pirates weakest link has been the bullpen. So far, the pen has blown enough holds/saves/leads, and turned close games into losing by 3+ runs, that they would be closer or in a WC, or even near a division spot, if it wasn’t for the bullpen. This bullpen struggle has been apparent the last few weeks. The Pirates could fix this problem though, for they still have some time, and enough of a farm system to strengthen a weak pen. Let's look at a few arms The Pirates could go after in the coming weeks up to the deadline.
1.) Kelvin Herrera
I had mentioned The Pirates as a possible target for The Pirates in an article on where Herrera will land. Also like I had said, The Royal’s closer has been downright dominant. In his 22.2 innings of work, Herrera has a .79 ERA, 2.01 FIP, and .706 WHIP. He has also not allowed a walk yet, and has only given up 1 homerun, and opponents only have a .242 BABIP against him. Herrera has also had a decent K% at 23.2%, his K/9 is down at a career low 7.5 K/9 rate. However, Herrera is a cheap option. He’s on the last year of his contract, and is only getting paid $7.937 million total this season.
2.) Shane Greene
The Tigers closer has been solid this year. On the season, Greene has a 3.49 ERA, 1.271 WHIP, a career high 10.8 K/9, 27.9 K%, and career lows in BB/9 (2.86) and BB% (7.4%) However, Greene does hold a 4.02 FIP, and it doesn’t help that The Pirates have less of a defensive WAR than The Tigers.
3.) Jared Hughes and/or David Hernandez
I put both of these pitchers here because both are on The Reds, and both are performing well. Hughes, who is a former Pirate, has done well for himself this year. In 32.1 innings, the righty has produced a 1.11 ERA, 2.96 FIP, and has only given up 2 homerun. He’s also currently has a career low, 2.2 BB/9 rate. As for Hernandez, he started the year on the DL, but has done well since coming off of it. In his 19.1 innings of work, Hernandez holds a 2.33 ERA, and a similar 2.65 FIP. He also carries a solid 8.4 K/9 rate, and hasn’t yet given up a homerun. Both are currently on cheap contracts (Hughes is getting paid $2.125 million and Hernandez is owed $2.5 million), and both could help the team.
4.) Brad Brach
The Orioles righty is on the last year of his contract, and owed $5.165 million. He’s done solid in his contract year. So far this season, Brach has a 3.13 ERA, and 3.07 FIP, with a healthy 9.8 K/9 and 23.6 K% in 23 innings. Though Branch has struggled with walks this year. He currently holds a 4.7 BB/9 and 11.3 walk%. His walk ratio is the highest it’s been since 2013. But he has limited batters to a .258 opponent average and .4 HR/9.
By: Noah Wright
Patrick McDermott/Getty Images
Pirates’ closer Felipe Vazquez’s bullpen role may be in jeopardy after a heartbreaking blown save last night against NL Central Rival, The St. Louis Cardinals. The game ended with a walk-off homerun from Yairo Munoz who hit it off a Vazquez 95.8 MPH fastball. This has not been the only time Vazquez has struggled this year, as this is his fourth blown save. Last year he was an extremely dominant pitcher, even not giving up an earned run in the entire month of July, to now having his role in jeopardy. His struggles have had Pirate fans wondering, what happened to Felipe Vazquez?
On Sunday, it was reported Felipe felt soreness in his left forearm (throwing arm). It has been apparent all year that something was wrong with his throwing arm. Vazquez’s signature pitch is his blazing fastball. Last year, his fastball averaged in the 98-100 MPH range. His performance and velocity with the fastball in 2017 rivaled that of Aroldis Chapman. This year, Vazquez’s fastball has averaged in the 95-97 MPH range. Vazquez also claimed the fastest pitch thrown by someone not named Chapman in 2017, at a whopping 102.6 MPH. So far in 2018, Vazquez has barely touched 100 MPH a few times this season. With his lack of velocity, Vazquez can’t blow the fastball by batters like he did last year. It has also caused his strikeout rate to dip from 10.51 last year, to 9.27 this year. The injury may also be affecting his control as well, with his walk rate rising a whole 1.24 points from last year to this year.
With his apparent injury, dip in velocity, and loss of control, it is likely Felipe will require a DL stint. While it’s not official, I predict he will be placed on The DL by the end of the week.
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.