94-68 (2nd NL central, 3rd NL, 5th MLB)
For more statistics:http://www.fangraphs.com/leaders.aspx?p ... &players=0
The hope is that 2013 erased the memory of their 2 decade run of futility. The major milestones include reaching 82 wins, making the playoffs, winning a playoff game and eliminating a team in the playoffs. They were ultimately stonewalled by young phenom Michael Wacha in game 4 of the NLDS in their World Series run.
They excelled in run prevention and struggled to score runs. Offense was down league wide, with the Pirates being one of the strong contributors to that trend. Offensive productivity is an extremely expensive commodity in the open market, but the Pirates plucked an effective contributor in Russell Martin who was an improvement at the C position both offensively and defensively. Fielding almost an entirely homegrown position group, significant contributions from McCutchen, Alvarez and Marte were limited by offensive black holes at 1B (all year) and RF until Marlon Byrd arrived.
The starting rotation was a strength all year, even with the difference between the group that started, and that which ended the season. McDonald and Sanchez were quickly removed, Liriano took over one of those spots, and an excellent first half from Locke eased the other failure. Gomez’s contribution was huge when Rodriguez went down with an injury that ultimately ended his season. The team was somehow able to manage injury and ineffectiveness until Morton and Cole arrived, and really saved the season prevented collapse similar to 2011 & 2012.
If you broke the team down into three parts, the position players, the starting rotation, and the bullpen. The latter would be the biggest competitive advantage the Pirates had over their competition. They pitched a lot of innings without sacrificing any quality. The high win total without the huge positive run differential, implies a lot of close wins. It wasn’t as though the Pirates had an outlier season, they just played a lot of low scoring games and held on to leads.
2014 projected roster:
C: R. Martin
1B: Lambo/Sanchez platoon
SS: Mercer (with I believe lots of Barmes)
RF: Tabata/Snider platoon
Catcher, 2B, 3B, LF & CF are locked down. If Mercer maintains his performance from last season, SS will be solidified. Getting Marlon Byrd on a 1 year deal would have been the ideal situation for RF, but that was unlikely and the Pirates didn’t seem to make much effort to improve the Tabata/Snider platoon. When that proves to be ineffective again, they will hand the job over to Polanco in midsummer. Polanco’s speed and hit tool make him a great top of the order option and will be a huge upgrade when he’s brought up. Lambo will be given an extended look at 1B. Sanchez was brought back to platoon at 1B, which will give Lambo a lot of at bats as the left handed side of that platoon. The potential upside of cost controlled LH power to play the position would be such a boost to the offense on this team, I find it hard to understand why the Pirates considered guys like Loney and Morrison. I suppose the value of the unknown is one of Lambo’s major attributes. But the known with the options they had were bad. This is the best scenario for a team on a tight budget. Worst case scenario is an upgrade is brought in midseason.
Position: Player: Control
C: Martin : FA 2014 – Martin will walk after this season, 2009 1st Round draft pick Tony Sanchez will be the starting catcher in AAA and likely take over as the full time catcher in 2015, or this season if Martin is injured.
1B: Sanchez : arb 2015 FA 2016. Lambo – six years of control. Position is unsettled. There are no internal options in the near future. If Lambo cannot handle the LH side of this platoon, they will have to go outside the organization.
2B: Walker: arb 2015-2016. FA 2017. Walker has some positives and negatives. He was unfortunately a super two guy last year and carries a larger salary than he otherwise would and will force some sort of decision to be made about him. He will cost between 8-9 million next year, he would need to be more productive from the right side this season for the team to confidently keep him around. He is also an injury concern, so in the end, it might just be better for the pirates move him shorter rather than later. He is by far the best option going into 2014, but it’s the long term where the question really gets difficult. Mercer will likely move to 2B when Walker is injured during the season, and prospect Alen Hanson looks to be the ultimate long term solution at 2B.
SS: Mercer: arb eligible 2016-2018. FA 2019. If he can play adequate defense and mash LHP like he did last year, there will be a job for him. He’s affordable for a long time, so I think his development influences Walker’s future with the team. If Mercer is only a RH platoon middle infielder, Walker would need to stay into next year. Ideally him and Hanson form the middle infield starting sometime in 2015.
3B: Alvarez: arb eligible 2015-2016. FA 2017. He’ll probably run to up around $12M by 2016. He’s without question worth that money. A long term contract is unlikely at this point, whether or not he remains with the team through 2016 depends on their ability to compete for the playoffs. There are some position question marks like 1B and SS where if moving Alvarez can fill one of those holes with a cost controlled prospect that could be an option. The team is strong and will be competitive, I see him playing out here in Pittsburgh and walking after the 2016 season.
LF: Marte: arb 2016-2018. FA 2019. He’s here for a long time. Hopefully NH is discussing a contract that will buy a year of FA.
CF: McCutchen: FA 2019. Maybe try and get him to sign something like a 2 year $40M extension to the existing deal…but otherwise, 2019 is far away.
RF: Tabata/Snider (inconsequential) G. Polanco: 2019-2021 Arb eligible. When Tabata and Snider inevitably prove that they are bench players and the service time issue passes. Polanco will be the Right Fielder. Will assuredly prove to be another threat on the basepaths, the speed is there regardless of level. We will hope that his hit tool plays at the ML level and he immediately adds some much needed high OBP to the top of the lineup.
2014 Pitching Staff
SP1: Liriano: FA 2014. His skill set plays really well for the Pirates. He dominates LH hitters and has plenty of give against righties with the huge LF and the best defensive LF in baseball. Barring injury, look for another productive season here. Plus he’s playing for a contract.
SP2: Cole: arb 2017-2019 (he could be a super two in 2016 – look for contract talks to begin with him soon). Was incredibly consistent in his first appearance at the ML’s, he hit Verducci’s list of young pitchers at risk from his 2013 IP increase. I don’t think Cole will give the Pirates 200 ip at 3.22 era, but look for a steady season from the future ace. He does well to limit the damage and keep the team in every game he starts.
SP3: Morton: FA 2017. He gave the team more than anyone could have possible expected coming back from TJ surgery in June. Has incredible movement on his pitches, but not always able to command his arsenal. Will be dominant for stretches, but prone to some clunkers, hopefully his great performance in the playoffs gives him a newfound level of confidence to build on for 2014.
SP4: Rodriguez: FA 2014. He’s a huge question mark. Hopefully he’s able to give the team some starts at some point in this season, they’re paying plenty for them.
SP4 When Rodriguez is hurt: Locke. Not reason to be concerned about his contract status. He looked terrible the 2nd half of 2013. He’s definitely going to have another shot for this team, but his leash is short and questions won’t be answered till the season starts.
SP5: Volzuqez: FA 2014. This signing left most Pirate fans scratching their heads. He’s being paid to start, so he’ll be in the rotation come April. I saw something about his curveball usage that aligns with the Pirates’ pitching philosophy, so they must like something about what he brings.
Grilli: FA 2014. Effective closer in 2013, look for them to reduce early season workload to prevent injury, such as he sustained in 2013.
Melancon: arb 2015-2016. Locked in to a late inning role for the team, he was one of the best RP in baseball for stretches last season. Will likely serve as closer in 2015.
Watson: arb 2015-2017. Has improved on his numbers every year, his presence should help to lighten the load on Grilli & Melancon.
Wilson: arb 2016-2018. Should give the team plenty of quality innings again, could also become an elite lefty specialist. Great example of the NH player development strategy, mid round draft pick turned into huge asset at the ML level.
Mazzaro: arb 2015-2016. Probably not long for long for this organization, no reason to pay your 5th best reliever veteran money. He serves to eat innings and allow the four better guys to handle the critical situations.
Gomez: arb: 2015-2017. Long relief and can take a regular turn in the rotation in a pinch. Threw 80 quality innings for this team last year, I think he ultimately ends up holding a rotation spot warm for Taillon early in the year and then acts as the long relief.
Pimentel/Morris – I assume the last spot goes to Pimentel because of options. His up and down season last year in the minors doesn’t give me confidence in him being an option for the rotation in the long term, but maybe proves to be another elite bullpen arm
Prospects – arrival - impact
Polanco – 2014 – Provide immediate upgrade in RF and at the top of the lineup
Taillon – 2014 – Exciting power arm that will get his feet wet at some point this year. Still has issues with the fastball, if that get’s corrected, could have a Cole like impact.
Kingham – 2015 – I think his floor is Bud Norris. Another RH power arm with a strong curveball, will almost certainly contribute positively in the near future.
Hanson – 2015 – switch hitting, middle infield speedster. Has hit and run tools at shortstop the Pirates haven’t seen since a roided up Jack Wilson. If he can get the defense solidified, he’ll help score runs, and hopefully make us forget the Barmes/Cedeno eras.
Glasnow – 2016 – Was unhittable in low A, combines elite stuff with a huge frame that makes that elite stuff play even better. Still a ways away, but every reason to get excited about this guy.
Beyond – Josh Bell, Austin Meadows, Reese McGuire…and a litany of other guys.
2014 Prediction: 90-72. 2nd Place in NL Central, 2nd WC slot.
1. Bullpen – The same dominant bullpen back again. Depth allows for heavy usage and provides a shelter for shortcomings in the rotation. The number of quality innings the bullpen is capable of giving allows Hurdle to ask very little from the back end of the rotation.
2. HR differential - The Pirates were 4th in the NL in HR hit and 1st in HR allowed. In this new power arm bullpen era, the premium on instant offense is huge. Rallies are difficult to sustain, and managers are quick to limit the damage. The Pirates still have that capability (see #1), and have HR threats up and down the lineup. Ideally RF and 1B sort themselves out so Mercer and Martin can provide that power threat at the bottom of the lineup.
3. Defense – Marte and McCutchen get to everything in spacious PNC park, and the strong internal analytics allows for the infield to scoop up ground balls. Maybe other teams catch up with the Pirates and diminishes the shift portion as a competitive advantage. But these factors still prevent runs and limit rallies.
1. Low OBP – Too many strike outs, not enough walks. The main culprits in 2013 were Jones, Barmes & Marte. Mercer is an upgrade over Barmes, Marte is young and could improve (but his hbp mitigated that deficiency, not sure we want the leadoff hitter getting plunked so much again), Jones is gone but replaced with a guy that could potentially be just as bad. So while, this is still a problem, it can’t be any worse than it was in 2013.
2. Rotation Depth – If Liriano, Cole & Morton maintain 2013 level, no problem there. But none of these guys are a sure thing in my definition of the term. Cole is young, Liriano has more 5 era years than not & Morton (won’t go into that). The back end of the rotation is only acceptable, if in a back of the rotation spot, if one of these guys falter Taillon providing a Cole boost will be necessary. They weathered some major storms with the rotation last year, this is the weakness created by allowing Burnett to walk. It’s a contingent weakness, but definitely a concern.