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.
By: Noah Wright
Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports
The Pirates announced today that all-star secondbasemen Josh Harrison was placed on the 10-Day D.L. but could miss up to 6 weeks after an MRI revealed a fractured hand. During Sunday’s game against The Marlins, Harrison was hit in the hand by Marlins’ pitcher, Jose Urena. On the season so far, Harrison was hitting .263/.328/.351 with a stolen base and homerun.