First Pitch: This Year is Different Because of the Depth

Jeanmar Gomez represents the biggest strength of the 2013 Pirates. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Jeanmar Gomez represents the biggest strength of the 2013 Pirates. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

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.

**Gerrit Cole Links: Two Reports Have Cole As A Number Two Starter.

**Pirates Attack Edwin Jackson Early In 4-2 Win, Sweep Cubs.

**Should the Pirates Go All In On International Signings This Year?.

**Vic Black Placed on the DL With a Left Oblique Injury.

**Prospect Watch: Tyler Glasnow Strikes Out 12 in 5 Innings; Allie Hits 13th Homer.

**Minor League Schedule: Taillon and Kingham Take the Mound Tonight.

**Draft Prospect Watch: Tournament Time As Draft Gets Closer.

Tim Williams

Author: Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with AccuScore.com, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

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  • NorCal Buc

    Brandon Inge. Just had to mention his name, because I distinctly remember at least three games that he had a vital role in the victory.

    In fact, Iv’e come to the point that I hope Inge plays when we face a left hander. Neil W is simply struggling against lefties.

    The two platoons are also working. Travis and Jose compliment each other in RF; Garret and Gaby provide a decent tandem at 1B. in fact, I would suggest that Pedro and Inge at 3B are another effective platoon situation.

    All of these guys make this team much more formidable than the previous two seasons.

    At last, the most significant role this year has been played by Clint Hurdle. He has been brilliant in every aspect – from the aforementioned 3 platoons, to his use of Melancon and Grilli, to particularly his insistence that Jordy play every day – even if it’s in Indy.

    Many fans want Mercer to play at PNC, even if that meant he would ride the bench five days per week. NO, it is CLEAR that Mercer has work to do on with his limited range. Barmes MUST play whenever possible, and Mercer needs to then play in Indy on an everyday basis.

    • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 Lee Young

      NorCal…with you on the Inge for Walker platoon.

      Foo

  • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 Lee Young

    I sure hope you’re right, Tim. I feel like we’re winning 3-1′ but it is only the top of the 4th. I like my chances, but….

    Foo

    .

    • letsgopitt123

      Lee,

      Why do you always end your comments with Foo? I created an account just so I could ask you that question. I may be the only one.. but I don’t find it funny at all.

      Fu

      • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 Lee Young

        That is my nickname and I could care less if you don’t like it.

        I’ve had it since I was a teenager. Get over it. I am truly amazed you created an account just for that purpose. You need a life, dude.

        Lee “Foo” Young

  • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 Lee Young

    Tim…enjoy your days off. Even AMac needs a blow every once in a while.

    Foo

  • WVBurghFan

    Good analysis, Tim. Great to have you and your whole team breaking things down for us.

  • mbrannagan

    Right or wrong you can even put Gomez at #12, because we had Jonathon Sanchez in the mix in the preseason as well.

    • http://www.piratesprospects.com Tim Williams

      That’s right. I forgot all about Jonathan Sanchez. Fortunately.

    • elgaupo

      It is kinda funny that I missed Sanchez too when reading this article. The dude made 4 starts.

  • leadoff

    I think the quality of the depth is the primary reason this team will do alright down the stretch, they have major league talent stacked up at AAA, they don’t even have to make any moves at the trading deadline, but they might make a Wandy type deal if one is available because good teams and small market teams are always building for the future.
    I don’t think the Pirates should go platoon happy with every position, Walker needs to play every day and get a day off once in a while, Pedro needs to play every day and get a day off once in a while.
    You see this is where stats get you in trouble, you look at the splits and you think guys like Petey and Neal should be platooned, but you have to look at their presence in the batting order, they cause managers to make moves by just being there, in the past they would never think of taking Stargell out of the lineup because he could not hit some left hander, his day of rest was his next day off, very similar to McCutchen, he has bad numbers against some pitchers but no one suggests he come out of the lineup when they play these guys, because he causes managers to make moves.
    Players that cause managers to make moves must play most of the time.

  • http://twitter.com/mjdouble mjdouble

    The thing is that all that depth isn’t helpful if you can’t stash it. This is how roster management is a bit easier for lower payroll clubs. Remember the Dodgers came into the season with a really deep rotation. They had 7 proven vet starters. They had to trade Harang and move Capuano to the pen at the start of the season. Both those players would have been in the rotation of most teams. They certainly would have been in the Bucs rotation over Jonathan Sanchez. The Dodgers had to deplete their depth to comply with the rules. The Pirates on the other hand could stash a number of arms due to minor league options and players on the DL rehabbing injuries. That is why signing a rehabbing pitcher like Morton is kind of genius.

  • reddfoxx39

    You can sum up this entire piece by simply writing “The Dodgers signed Johnathon Sanchez”…..

    Which they did over a week ago.

    I really hope he makes it up when LA comes to PNC. He owes an easy win…

    • elgaupo

      You can’t really fault the Dodgers that much. They had 3 legit starters in the pen to start the season. They’ve just had that much bad luck.

      • leadoff

        Unfortunately, luck does play a very big part in what happens, but we like to say that is an excuse, but in reality it is not.

  • smurph

    Totally agree with the article, which is why the Pirates won’t collapse this season. There is one thing that is missing. That is giving credit to the Pirates coaches. Ray Searage has been absolutely fabulous with what he has done with the pitching staff, and it looks like they have a keeper in Jay Bell who is already having more success with hitters than Ritchie had.

  • p100980

    The pirates have done a good job of adding veterans to the mix with a solid farm system. The ability to bring up Mercer, Morris, Hughes and others and adding FA’s like Burnett, Martin and trading for Rodriguez has worked and made this team respectable and competitive. NH should be commended for his work.

  • http://www.facebook.com/bryan.graham.773 Bryan Graham

    Hopefully this is the year that the “This year will be different because” article is actually true. I know there was one last year somewhere I saw and there may have been 1 two years ago. Regardless, I will root for them every game but remain a non-believer until it actually happens. Oh well, at least they are entertaining for now so I will just sit back and enjoy it while I can.