NL Central Previews: Pittsburgh Pirates

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The Pirates were surprisingly competitive early in 2018, before slowing down and finishing with an 82-79 record. Big pieces Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole were traded and expectations were low. The Bucs start was so promising they even became buyers at the deadline, acquiring pitcher Chris Archer from the Rays. Unlike the Reds, Pittsburgh was mostly quiet this winter. Archer, still under contract, will get a full season to try to make an impact. So what will the Pirates look like in 2019?

Projected Starting Pitchers

1. Chris Archer (R)

2. Trevor Williams (R)

3. Jameson Taillon (R)

4. Nick Kingham (R)

5. Joe Musgrove (R)

Archer will probably be the opening-day starter, but he is not the Pirates best starter. He posted a 4.31 ERA last year and his numbers have steadily declined since 2015. Trevor Williams had a huge second year with a 3.11 ERA and one of the best ground ball rates in baseball. Taillon, once a highly touted prospect, is starting to live up to his hype. He dropped his ERA a full run from 2017 and piled up 179 strikeouts in 191 innings. That was good for a 4.7 WAR, tops on the team. Kingham almost threw a no-hitter in his debut start, but it was a rough season overall. The highly thought of prospect will likely get a rotation spot in 2019. The hard-throwing Musgrove, a part of the Cole trade with Houston, will also get a look in the rotation.

Projected Starting Lineup

1. LF Corey Dickerson (L)

2. CF Starling Marte (R)

3. RF Gregory Polanco (L)

4. 1B Josh Bell (S)

5. C Francisco Cervelli (R)

6. 3B Colin Moran (L)

7. 2B Adam Frazier (L)

8. SS Kevin Newman (R)

If the Pirates want to contend they will need more from their inconsistent young hitters. Marte, Polanco, and Bell have shown flashes of being impact bats, but it will take complete seasons to make them a great team. Dickerson has been very good in a Pirates uniform and will likely be the leadoff hitter. Moran will be the strong side of a third base platoon with Jung Ho Kang. Cervelli is an excellent defensive catcher with a decent bat. With Jordy Mercer and Josh Harrison gone, Frazier and Newman will be the double play combination.

Projected Bullpen

1. Closer Felipe Vazquez (L)

2. RP Kyle Crick (R)

3. RP Keone Kela (R)

4. RP Steven Brault (L)

5. RP Richard Rodriguez (R)

6. RP Jordan Lyles (R)

7. RP Francisco Liriano (L)

Vazquez is still a top level closer, but the rest of the bullpen is a question mark. Rodriguez is a hard-thrower who had a very good season and will likely be the setup man. Kela, brought over from the Rangers at the deadline, was effective as well for Pittsburgh. Crick was the big piece of the Cole trade, the hope is he can become an Archie Bradley-like bullpen piece. Lyles, Brault, and Liriano are all former starters who will be potential swing-men.

Projected Bullpen

1. IF Jose Osuna (R)

2. IF Jung Ho Kang (R)

3. C Elias Diaz (R)

4. OF Lonnie Chisenhall (L)

5. OF Pablo Reyes (R)

6. IF Kevin Kramer (L)

7. IF Erik Gonzalez (R)

Chisenhall comes over from the Indians and will probably the top player off the bench. Kang will get a lot of playing time at third. Diaz was good filling in for the oft-injured Cerevelli at catcher. Osuna saw a fair amount of playing time last year. Kramer, Gonzalez, and Reyes are young players filling out the bench.

Conclusion

The Pirates have the makings of a top-notch rotation. The bullpen is somewhat of a concern, although the closer position is solid. What will determine if the Bucs make a playoff run is the offense. If the Pirates young hitters can live up to their potential they can challenge for the Wild Card. That however, is a very large if.

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  • Nicely done, Sean. Pittsburgh has enough pieces to contend, if everything goes right. I expect some tough games against the Cubs this year.

  • I know they’re all major leaguers & will some games, but I am not worried the Pirates much.

  • I'm enjoying their camp so far..

  • In reply to SFToby:

    Pirates or Cubs?

  • Polanco is still recovering from season ending shoulder surgery. He isn’t expected back until May. I would also add that Mitch Keller, a top 20 prospect, is knocking at the door. Dude hits high 90’s with a lot of sink. He’ll most likely be an impactful presence in the rotation if anyone faulters/ gets injured.

  • Pedro has another hammy... Brach, velocity down under 90... Monty, shoulder... Morrow, out... Looks like we’ll be needing that depth sooner rather than later. Maybe Luke Haggerty by end of April or May. ;o)

  • In reply to Milk Stout:

    Well - here's hoping then that Edwards, Maples, Underwood, Norwood and the rest of the AAA RP depth is ready for prime time this year.

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    Nothing about the defense? Especially the new middle infielders?

  • In reply to Tyson Wirth:

    OK, Dan Descaleso has a sore shoulder.

  • Official. It’s a hard trade deadline of July 31st. No August waiver wire trades anymore. Next year 26 on the roster. 28 in September. 13 & 14 pitchers max respectively... I don’t like that rule.

  • In reply to Milk Stout:

    I don't know how having more pitchers is going to speed anything up. Position player replacements are fun and add strategy, though.

  • In reply to DarBar15:

    Yeah. And limiting the September rule to just 28 seems weird. I could see less than what they’ve been currently allowed & not telling teams how they can construct their rosters between pitchers & position players. Would ohtani be considered a pitcher or position player?

  • In reply to Milk Stout:

    Yeah I don’t like these changes either, especially the limits on pitchers. I guess the 26th man is fine itself. I can see that being a bigger advantage to the Cubs and other teams willing to spend their money. Cubs position player group is good enough that since theyll be limited to the same 13 pitchers they already like to carry, they can just add a specialist; I’m thinking a speed guy for late pinch running duties.

    he truth with the limit on pitchers is that this just means there’s another bench warmer on teams that don’t have the positional flexibility that we’ve seen teams like the Cubs going for over the last so many years.

    And great point about Ohtani. If the Reds are going to do that with Lorenzen too, and I know there are some other players who want to do the same, then they should have to declare their position before the each game (which would cause them to have to make other roster moves at times), and further this also takes the ball out of Maddon’s hands in times like where he’s put Travis Wood in the outfield before having him return to the mound to pitch more. Also, I believe he’s done that with Strop once too. So these rules are just taking more strategy out dobthe game and making it less interesting. And this was coming from the players association? They’re gonna ruin this game. I don’t think they’ve fully thought this through, especially since they’re complaining about free agent contracts and now they have to share their salary limits with another player. Yes it’s probably a player making league minimum, but that’s just the thing, now their will be 30 more players in MLB whom aren’t really that deserving, plus when the day comes they add 2 more teams and water down the league with another 52 players, then that’s 82 players that should be minor leaguers sitting on MLB benches and impacting games in late extra innings games. That’s boring!! By then if the DH is in the NL, I’ll be done with this game they’ve stripped of all its strategy. Lame...

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    In reply to Cubber Lang:

    I don't think this will affect a player like Travis Wood playing OF. There is a MAX number of pitchers as I read it. He would still count toward that max.

    Where things might get interesting would be in a blow out game the manager will have to look at his roster construction lest he turn a position player into a pitcher and tip the team over the limit. LOL.

    I am fine with expanding the roster. I hope it prevents players from having to shuttle back and forth to AAA. But I don't like the limit on the number of pitches. I don't like rules trying to limit where defenders can stand. I don't like minimum number of batters faced rules.

    To me bullpen arms LOSE effectiveness with extra use. Bench players usually improve effectiveness with increased use. So why increase the amount that relief pitchers might have to be used and decrease the opportunities for a bench player to be used? If you have a good PH or PR or defensive specialist then, great, go ahead and use him. But don't specify how a roster should be constructed. Seeing different ideas about how to construct a roster is fun to watch go head to head.

  • In reply to Joel Mayer:

    Ok, what you’re saying makes sense, and I agree with the additional issues you bring to mind. In the case of Ohtani, it actually would seem to hand cuff those teams instead, the way you present it. Because Ohtani is a pitcher and whether he plays that day or not, he should be considered one.

    The one thing I stand by is I don’t think they (League officials and players union) have thought this through nearly enough yet. I guess the Atlantic League (is that the correct testing grounds?) will help for them to realize they have a ton of details to iron out.

    Your points about bullpen usage and bench is right on point. I don’t like any of the rule changes, especially the pitcher having to face 3 batters. While I don’t like the shift so much, I agree players should be allowed to position themselves where their team thinks is best. Just like I mentioned, it completely removes strategy. I wonder if Rizzo will even be allowed to come in as close as he does on bunt plays with their rules? It’s stupid enough they make him put a non-first baseman’s glove on when he does that!

    I just don’t like watering down the game with lesser talent. They need to find ways to lure talented athletes like the OU Heisman winner QB (Kyler Murray, is that right?) into MLB and not push them away. If we’re talking about adding 30 more players to the MLB rosters around the league, they should be exciting players who can impact the game, and not just specialists or bench players who rarely see playing time at the opportunity to truly not just impact one inning, or outcome of a single game, but to impact their teams’s season!

  • In reply to DarBar15:

    Did I hear this part correctly? That all pitchers are required to face at least 3 batters? So much for lefty/righty RP specialists then.

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    In reply to drkazmd65:

    That's my understanding. There is an exception for "end of inning" (if a guy gets 2 guys out and the inning is over he can be taken out of the game.

    The goal (from my perspective) is to end "LOOGuYs" and managers making a change for every batter late in the game. Ironically, those are usually exciting situations. In a boring game managers usually just want everyone to go home.

  • In reply to Joel Mayer:

    The problem is when there’s less than 2 outs & bags juiced. LH slugger at the plate. The pitcher that comes in is stuck until the 3rd batter or the 3rd out. That is changing the game & im not in favor of that.

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    In reply to Milk Stout:

    I'm not in favor of it either, Mike. But it is simply a rule. And a somewhat arbitrary one at that. Will it change the way some situations are managed? Possibly/probably. Is that catastrophic? Maybe, maybe not.

    To me I am not in favor of this rule, as I said above, as it will force teams to look more and more like eachother. One team might focus on accumulating specialists and another team might focus on getting generalists. This rule will give an advantage to a team that has based their bullpen less on specialists. I actually enjoy watching teams adjust and re-adjust similar to how players adjust. Baseball is a game of pendulum swings. Eventually all the teams start to look alike as they all read from the same playbook. Then one team has the courage to step away from it and reap a huge advantage until everyone else follows suit.

    I wish that they'd set this up to take effect in several years. There are guys that are LOOGuYs under contract. Those contracts might quickly become a burden. It changes a rule that will affect how teams can/will possibly use these guys. It really isn't fair to the teams.

    To me, though, this is just a rule. While I don't like it it doesn't affect the integrity of the game, IMO. I am far more concerned about moving the mound. Has that rule been approved to be tried by the Atlantic league?

  • In reply to Joel Mayer:

    I'm with you on moving the mound back. Facing three batters, really, I'm fine with. I'd also be OK with limiting shifts.

  • In reply to Cliff1969:

    What happens if the mound gets moved and then we wind up with 3 guys hitting over .400? Then we get the whole Roger Maris thing again.....

  • In reply to Cliff1969:

    We'd better have some guys hitting over .400, because the pitchers who live on "the black" won't be able to find it any more. Any pitcher with movement on his pitches will be in trouble, and poor Willson will need a bigger mitt!

  • In reply to Joel Mayer:

    This will force some more intentional or "unintentional" walks. But this, again, will open up some new strategies. Right now, I think I'm ok with it but we'll see how it goes... I might hate it. Changes the game quite a bit when you start to imagine the scenarios.

  • In reply to DarBar15:

    More walks for extreme movement and breaking ball pitchers will only slow down the pace of play and lengthen game times even more. It could end up completely being counterproductive.

    Also, how many years of adjusting to that will lead to more pitching arm injuries?

  • In reply to Cubber Lang:

    I guess this is good for the hitters, which was probably part of the goal, as well.

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    In reply to drkazmd65:

    I keep harping on this with these "new rules" but what is the penalty if broken? Does the manager/GM have to endure a tongue lashing from the league office? If the team wants to change pitchers is the batter automatically walked? What?

  • In reply to Joel Mayer:

    Wouldn't it just be that they couldn't change pitchers? The walk would be an option if you didn't want the pitcher to face more hitters.

    I assume this change would mean every team would put their lineup in a R/L/R/L order.

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    In reply to springs:

    Maybe it will just be "a rule" like "you can't take a player out of the game and then put him back in." But on that same line, what's the penalty for that? Forfeit?

    I think that some teams will make their line-up R/L/R/L but not necessarily.

    To be snarky, maybe they should make that against the rules too. You better not be caught throwing back-to-back off-speed pitches, etc. LOL

  • In reply to Milk Stout:

    I'm amazed that the MLBPA would agree to the 28 player roster in September. You'd think that with all the outcry over service time requirements, they'd be opposed to anything that reduces the chance of MLB experience for players.

  • In reply to Cliff1969:

    I was thought the same thing then, I thought maybe it was a compromise for having 26 man roster all year instead of 25 man.

    I think the biggest change no one has mentioned is the time between innings going from 2:05 minutes to 2:00 for local games. Games are going to be flying by now. ;)

  • In reply to 2016 Cubs:

    Well, if you wait until you get back to the couch to pour the beer, you should be OK with the shortened commercial break.

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    In reply to Cliff1969:

    I am not sure how, exactly, the MLBPA feels about "service time." I know there are plenty of comments. I remember in 2015 when all the "Kris Bryant" stuff was going down someone said, "Boy, I bet Jonathan Herrera is thrilled his union is standing up for him." Not to make light of it and I think they know that some of these guys will be members of their union soon I don't believe minor league players are part of the union. Just a weird situation.

  • In reply to Cliff1969:

    I thought I remembered Arizona Phil stating that September callup (as part of expanded roster, not just being on team in September) doesn't count toward service time....that sounds like it can't be correct, but does anyone know?

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    In reply to springs:

    That sounds familiar to me too.

  • In reply to Joel Mayer:

    This is accurate

  • The site Fivethirtyeight had an interesting column about "fixing" the bullpen problem and going to three batters per pitchers was not it. The idea/solution that they writer proposed was putting a strict number on how many pitchers a team can carry on the roster, they went with 10. This leaves room for the LOOGY and some matchup playing but requires that those match-ups moves be more strategic.
    https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/relievers-have-broken-baseball-we-have-a-plan-to-fix-it/

    On moving the mound back, I've heard good arguments wondering what would happen to big breaking pitches. I think a simpler solution would be to lower the mound a little. Afterall, that would not change a fundamental of the game (60'6" and 90'), the lowered in 1969 from 15" to 10"-- I wonder what a few more inches would do.

  • In reply to JohnCC:

    Pitchers in the MLBPA would riot. Plus, if teams only carried ten pitchers, MLB would also (rightly) say that there would be no reason for the 26th man on the roster. So, less jobs, which means the entire MLBPA wouldn't go for it.

  • In reply to JohnCC:

    As for moving the mound back, I was a little surprised by the distance they were proposing (62'). I figured 61' would be adequate and have less of an impact on control of breaking pitches.

    With the technology available to track spin and break on pitches, pitchers would make adjustments to get the break on their pitches at the optimum time. Walks would certainly go up though.

    As for pitcher health, I've heard some claims that changing the distance would be detrimental, which is stupid. It's not like the pitches they throw now are designed to go 60'6". Just like a boxer punches through his opponent and doesn't stop at point of impact.

    The only negative I can think of is that they would likely have to throw more pitches because they would miss the zone more, but that might be offset by more contact from hitters.

  • Cubs have optioned Norwood,Underwood and Wick to Iowa.

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    Anybody know how Albertos is looking this spring? I saw in a box score over at AZ Phil's site that he pitched a scoreless, hitless, WALKLESS inning. 10 pitches 8 strikes!!!! At least that is encouraging!!

  • In reply to Kevin:

    Heard good things recently. So fingers crossed.

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