First Pitch: This Year is Different Because of the Depth
After recording the podcast today, I was talking with James and Tom about depth. We were specifically talking about the Dodgers, and how despite their mega payroll, they don’t really have a good team. They’ve had a lot of injuries, but who do they have behind those big salaries? Hanley Ramirez goes down, and Justin Sellers is their shortstop. It’s not like Dee Gordon was doing any better. They’ve lost a lot of pitchers to injuries, to the point where Matt Magill has made four starts, and Stephen Fife has made one. Keep in mind, this is a $216 M payroll.
That got me thinking about the Pirates and why they’re better this year than last year. The big reason is depth. Last year it was Andrew McCutchen carrying the offense. This year it’s a group effort. Last year when the rotation fell apart in August, the team fell apart. This year the rotation has fallen apart to the point where Jeanmar Gomez has made five starts. Yet the team is 5-0 in those starts, obviously because Gomez has The Will To Win. Neil Walker goes down for 15 days and Jordy Mercer comes up and starts belting homers. Guys like Vin Mazzaro and Bryan Morris have been stepping up in the bullpen. And there’s depth at pretty much every position in the minors.
Think about Gomez and the early season rotation for a second. Here was the depth chart in the pre-season:
1. A.J. Burnett
2. Wandy Rodriguez
3. James McDonald
4. Francisco Liriano
5. Jeff Locke
6. Kyle McPherson
7. Charlie Morton
8. Jeff Karstens
9. Gerrit Cole
10. Phil Irwin
11. Jeanmar Gomez
The Pirates would have had to go through two rotations to get to Gomez. And that’s pretty much what they’ve done. Liriano, Morton, and Karstens started hurt. Liriano came back, and Karstens and Morton are close. McDonald, McPherson, and Irwin got hurt during the season. Cole has struggled. And that brings us to Gomez in the rotation for the month of May, despite being the 11th best option in the pre-season. And that 11th best option has a 4.23 xFIP after today’s start. Meanwhile the 9th and 10th options for the Dodgers (Magill, Fife) have been horrible.
Sometimes I feel that it’s not all about how good your top five starters are. It’s more about how good your next five starters are. The reason the Pirates look like contenders right now isn’t because of A.J. Burnett, Andrew McCutchen, or any of the other big names. It’s because of smaller guys like Jeanmar Gomez, Vin Mazzaro, Justin Wilson, Jordy Mercer, and all of the other role players that have stepped up. That’s what contending teams do. They’re not built on 2-3 starting pitchers and 2-3 position players. They’re built on the entire 25-man roster, plus all of the guys in Triple-A who can step in if someone from that 25-man roster gets hurt or struggles. That’s the strength of the Pirates this year.
Links and Notes
**First Pitch will be taken over this weekend. I’ve got some friends coming in from out of town, and will be taking my first days off from the site since last January. That’s January 2012, unless you count when I moved, and I don’t because that’s not time off at all. While I’m out, Tom Bragg (Friday), James Santelli (Saturday), and John Dreker (Sunday) will be posting guest First Pitch articles, giving their thoughts on whatever subject they think up those nights. After the podcast goes up tomorrow, you won’t hear from me until Monday. Unless you count scheduled tweets. Or if you listen to the podcast over the weekend. Then obviously you’ll be hearing my voice. I’ll be back Monday. That’s what I’m saying.
**The 2013 Prospect Guide and the 2013 Annual are both available on the products page of the site. If you order them together, you’ll save $5.
**A new episode of the Pirates Prospects Podcast will go up tomorrow with an interview with Mark Melancon. Here is last week’s episode: P3 Episode 4: Are the Pirates For Real? Plus a Jameson Taillon Interview.