First Pitch: The Ten Most Unbelievable Things About The 2013 Season

It seems like every week I find myself tweeting something along the lines of “Imagine if you were told before the season that (insert unbelievable feat from the Pirates or one of their players)”. I was thinking about a few of those tonight, and thinking about how crazy of a season it has been so far. The Pirates are not only winning. They’re winning in the most unexpected way possible. They’ve used over two rotations worth of starting pitchers. The offense isn’t working. Their best player is following up a career year with the same production he had in the two years before that. They’re relying on pitchers who entered the season with career ERAs over 5.00.

I decided to put together a list. Some of the items below are just great things to see, and speak to the depth of the team and how it’s not just 3-4 players leading the Pirates like in the last two years. Other items below are more of a concern for the rest of the season, but it’s still impressive that the Pirates are competing despite those issues. Here are ten things that, if you heard them before the season, you’d find them unbelievable, and find the Pirates’ chances this year unbelievable.

1. The Pirates will call up Tony Sanchez, but only for his bat.

Starting with this one because it happened today. Tony Sanchez was called up, mostly because the Pirates planned on using him to DH against the two upcoming left-handers this weekend (one of those left-handers has been replaced, presumably out of fear of Sanchez).

Sanchez has struggled at the plate the last two years. In 2011 he had a .241/.340/.318 line in 402 at-bats. In 2012 he had a .251/.338/.401 line in 347 at-bats between Double-A and Triple-A. His defense was good, but there were serious questions about his hitting. Those questions haven’t been fully answered, since he only has 183 at-bats this year. But he does have a .306/.389/.563 line in those at-bats.

2. Brandon Cumpton will make two starts for the Pirates in June.

Think about the starters the Pirates had at the start of the year. There was A.J. Burnett, Wandy Rodriguez, James McDonald, Jeff Locke, Kyle McPherson, Jeanmar Gomez, and Jonathan Sanchez. You had guys who were starting the season injured: Francisco Liriano, Charlie Morton, and Jeff Karstens. There were guys in Triple-A who could be up by mid-season: Gerrit Cole and Phil Irwin.

Now imagine being told that even with that depth, the Pirates would need Brandon Cumpton to make two starts in the middle of June.

Jeanmar Gomez could not pitch past the first inning Sunday.

Jeanmar Gomez returns to the rotation on Wednesday. Who would have guessed we’d be looking forward to that? (Photo by: David Hague)

3. Pirates fans will look forward to the return of Jeanmar Gomez to the rotation.

Gomez before the 2013 season: 5.18 ERA in 206.2 innings.

Gomez this season: 3.07 ERA in 44 innings.

4. Wandy Rodriguez and A.J. Burnett will both miss time with injuries.

You could probably combine the last two, tell someone before the season, and they’d think the rotation was a mess. But if you told them that Rodriguez and Burnett would both miss starts with injuries along with those other two items, they wouldn’t even ask if the rotation was performing. They’d just demand Neal Huntington be fired before this mess could ever happen. Then they’d say “Trade Gerrit Cole for a proven pitcher! We’ll need it! Prospects aren’t guarantees.”

5. Andrew McCutchen will have an .806 OPS on June 22nd.

A lot of the talk I saw before the season said that if Andrew McCutchen doesn’t repeat his career year, the Pirates have no shot at winning.

6. Andrew McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez will each have an OPS lower than Jordy Mercer.

You could look at this two ways. Either Jordy Mercer is doing amazing things for a shortstop, or McCutchen and Alvarez are horrible. Pirates fans have 20 years of conditioning to suggest the latter is more likely. The truth is more to the former, and Jordy Mercer actually leads the team in OPS at .834.

7. Jeff Locke will be the best starter on the team.

Let’s forget the previous pitcher issues and just imagine this as something you say in a pre-season discussion. While a lot of people are saying that Jeff Locke doesn’t belong in the majors, and won’t be anything more than a fifth starter, you respond by saying he’ll put up better numbers this year than anyone in the rotation.

And then they would respond:

8. Vin Mazzaro will provide a boost to the bullpen.

I don’t know if people are trusting Vin Mazzaro yet, but he’s been excellent out of the bullpen. After tonight he has a 3.06 ERA in 32.1 innings, and his advanced metrics aren’t much worse, with a 3.98 xFIP. But coming into the year he had a career 5.22 ERA in 286 innings.

9. Pedro Alvarez’s hitting will not provide more value than his fielding.

Alvarez has been worth 1.5 runs above average from his hitting. He’s been worth 1.5 runs combined from his fielding and his positional adjustment. Those were before tonight’s game, so they might have changed. If you would have heard that Alvarez’s hitting and fielding would have been equal value prior to the season, you probably would have assumed that the hitting was horrible. Instead, the fielding has been excellent. There’s the 13 errors, but Alvarez is making a lot of really tough plays at third, and is actually providing positive value defensively this year.

Offensively he has 17 homers, which leads all NL third baseman, and puts him in a tie for second with Evan Longoria in the majors. He’s looking more and more like a platoon option, with an .816 OPS in 169 at-bats against right-handers (prior to tonight), and a .565 OPS in 55 at-bats against left-handers (also prior to tonight). Only two of his 17 homers have come against lefties. He’s also only hitting homers, as he has just six doubles and no triples. He’s drawing walks against right-handers (9% BB/PA), but not as many against lefties (6.8%).

But the defense has been impressive. He might not be a Gold Glover like my (somewhat) sarcastic comments on Twitter after his great plays, but he’s not looking like a guy who needs to move to first anytime soon.

10. Gerrit Cole will come up for a few starts, and the Pirates might have to send him back down.

If you heard that, you’d think that Cole was a bust. Or if you weren’t so quick to jump to conclusions, you’d think Cole just got off to a rough start.

Cole has been excellent so far in his three starts. But the rotation has also been excellent and the Pirates will have an interesting decision to make soon. When Wandy Rodriguez and A.J. Burnett return they will have to find a spot on the major league roster for Charlie Morton, James McDonald, and Jeanmar Gomez. With Liriano and Locke in the rotation, there’s only room for one of those guys in the rotation. If you keep Cole, then you’ll have room to send all three to the bullpen. But if you do that, then you lose your starting pitching depth, as those guys wouldn’t be stretched out. Your only backup starter would be Brandon Cumpton.

It probably won’t be popular, but the best way to keep some depth in the system is by sending Cole down. Based on how frequently the Pirates have seen starting pitchers go down, we can safely say that Cole would be back under this scenario. But if a pitcher gets injured, I’d rather have Cole as the replacement.

This is probably a topic that will be discussed a lot in the next few weeks.

Links and Notes

**2013 Pittsburgh Pirates Draft Pick Signing Tracker.

**Pirates Prospects Has a New Mobile Theme.

Prospects

**Prospect Watch: Barnes With a Big Day, Jhang Homers Again.

**Getting a First Look in 2013 at Joely Rodriguez and Stetson Allie.

**DSL Prospect Watch: Pirates Down First Place Rangers.

**Minor League Schedule: Taillon and Glasnow Get Starts Tonight.

**2013 GCL Pirates Season Preview.

**Pirates Sign Neil Kozikowski to Over-Slot Deal.

**Pirates Sign 22nd Round Pick Henry Hirsch.

Pirates

**Pirates Call Up Tony Sanchez, Demote Brandon Cumpton.

**Minor Moves: Tabata Begins Rehab Assignment; Ali Solis to Indianapolis.

**Gerrit Cole Fantastic Again, Pirates Win 5-2 in Anaheim.

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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  • chenzt

    The good news is we can run on a 4 man rotation until July 23rd with one spot starter on July 6th. AJ and Wandy can take all the time they need to come back to from the DL.

  • emjayinTN

    Tim: The Pirates have saved up a lot of those unbelievable things over the past 20 years and are well deserving of a little bit of luck, and a whole lot of success from the quality of the SYSTEM. Schedule-wise, this was projected to be a tough month for the Buc’s and they complicated that by losing an inordinate number of Starting Pitchers out of the Rotation. Mercer is better than Barmes in every facet of play and deserves to be the starting SS. Cole has proven to be a legitimate top-of-the-Rotation SP, and he stays until his performance shows he needs to return to AAA – regardless of who is ready to come off of the DL. IMO, If that means that Morton, McDonald, Karstens, and/or Gomez need to be traded, then so be it – It is a great time to be going to Seattle, a team that is always a pitcher or two short.. And when the Pirates needed it the most the other day in Cincy, it was Pedro Alvarez who cleared the bases with a double off of a LHRP who had made him look silly the previous games.

    • emjayinTN

      Sorry, but I failed to say I have both feet firmly planted on that Bandwagon, and this is a place the Pirates have never been – lately. Therefore, the usual decisions do not apply. We have to move forward with Cole, Locke, Taillon, and then the next guy up who could be Kingham, but Cumpton has shown himself to be a very adequate #4 or #5, and their are many other young guys who could move quicker than expected. Alvarez, Martin, and Mercer are the guys leading this offense the last 10 games that has managed to barely support our outstanding pitching. ‘Cutch and Jones are close, but not quite there, and Walker is an obvious worst in BA over the past 10 games at .182, but has a HR, 5 RBI, and 4W/9K, so he is putting the ball in play. Comparatively, Jones is hitting 100 points higher but 0HR, 2 RBI, and 3W/9K. ‘Cutch also 100 points higher is 0 HR, 6 RBI, 3W/9K. And, a tip of the hat to Mazzaro last night who helped keep all but Grilli resting comfortably in the BP.

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

      Emjay….perhaps this year is an example of Bob Prince’s ‘hidden viggerish’ applying to us?

      :) :) :)

      Foo

  • deacs

    Is there a big dropoff in fielding in going from Barmes to Mercer? I feel as though Barmes was a better fielder than I gave him credit for but my opinion was blurred because he left about 1,000 guys in scoring position with less than 2 outs and the pitcher up next. My disgust blurs my judgement which is why I’m asking.

  • http://www.facebook.com/andrew.smalley.35 Andrew Smalley

    If NH sends Gerrit Cole down to the minors after that performance from last night (which I don’t believe he will), he will have a lot of explaining to do.

    I can’t believe people are actually worrying about where *Jeanmar Gomez* fits in the rotation. He’s a long-reliever, 44 innings doesn’t make him something different.

    Burnett/Liri/Wandy/Locke/Cole, with Gomez/Morton as long-relief – w/ Morton the #6 starter. I’d be very surprised and heavily disappointed if that isn’t the case when all our healthy. McDonald either in pen or DFA’d; Gomez/Morton in pen.

    Some are either making this harder than it is for unknown reasons or they are overvaluing 44 IP by a career journeyman.

    Cole ain’t going anywhere, fellas.

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

      I was on the bandwagon that Cole was not ready. Now, I think they need to leave him in the rotation fer shur!
      .
      As for JMac, he looks done….don’t know (or care) what they do with him….lol
      .
      Foo

  • vanderbilt

    We have got to keep Cole up in the Majors! Pedro has hit a home run in all three of his starts!

  • https://profiles.google.com/105668650510920614054 Brian Bernard

    Last nights game was the highlight of the season for me. Cole v. Trout, Pedro doing what I said he’d do this year, Mercer doing what I thought he’d do two years ago.
    Mazzaro hitting 97, Grilli being filthy, Trout being VanSlyke, Albert being Albert.
    Just a special baseball treat – but seeing a pitcher like Cole doing what he does and being in a Pirates uniform… I was giggling at times like a teeniebopper seeing Beatles.
    I think he may be in the top 5 of MLB pitchers today – right now – and that game felt like a playoff performance from the club.
    Awesome experience.
    Anyway that Cole doesn’t stay in this rotation is a joke, and only a joke. He is the key to this season now and had he been in the rotation from jump street we may well have already been in 1st place.
    A.J., Liriano, Cole, Locke, Wandy. That 5 might be the 5 best in the league. What a story.
    Morton, and Gomez need to be in the pen when the time comes.

  • leadoff

    IMO, unbelievable to fans and media, but not to the Pirates. All of these players have talent, all of them had and have reasons for success or failure, but I believe the Pirates have excellent baseball people throughout the organization that recognize a players shortcomings and how to fix them and they have fixed a lot of them.
    Benedict gets no credit, but is an outstanding pitching guru.
    There system with pitchers that insists on ground ball efficiency and how to achieve this is outstanding. Being a person that loves defense, the Pirates are doing it the way a low income team should do it, pitching and defense can be an inexpensive way to build a team and keep any team in any game.

  • leadoff

    Also, I would be surprised if Gomez is in the rotation other than for a few spotted starts here or there, I think he will go to the pen as a long man.

  • reddfoxx39

    Put me down for Pedro’s glove, which has been excellent. He had a rough first two weeks, but he has been highlight worthy since……often coming in big situations in close games or with RISP. Now his bat is looking 35-110ish.
    I will take the .235 avg happily and pay him soon……

  • reddfoxx39

    And Cole needs to stay up. If we were in the one game playoff with Cincy tomorrow, and assuming everyone was healthy and on full rest, who would you want starting that game?
    Cole or AJ most likely. But an AJ, Cole, Locke, Wandy playoff rotation not only gives us hope, but confidence. Especially vs. the Braves or the Diamondbacks.
    For those that care, we are still 15-1 to win the pennant in some places.

  • jake15

    Any chance the Pirates try to deal Wandy in a package for a RF since the chances of signing him this offseason are pretty small?? With the pitching depth right now, I think Morton is better than Wandy. The only problem is you lose a lefty in the rotation. AJ, Cole, Liriano, Locke, Morton (with Gomez as 6th starter/long relief).

  • https://profiles.google.com/116366873579930999690 Thom Kay

    Not buying Alvarez’ fielding. Pedro is leading the majors in errors. Not just 3B. All positions throughout the majors.

    66 games is too small a sample size to trust UZR.

  • brilemon

    Tim- super job promoting piratesprospectus and pirateprospects and finally piratesprospects (.coms) on pomp show. Lol- great job!

  • buc em all

    I’m sorry u can’t replace cole with jmac or jeanmar even Morton for that matter that be stupid n I’d prob fly to the burgh n break Clint and meals legs with a bat jersey style

  • Ericfg

    Some stats I find unbelievable would be RISP numbers. Bucs are dead last in MLB in OPS with RISP. The top two NL teams? StL & Cin.
    Our best RISP guy is Jordy (1.036!) albeit in a small sample size. The other players over .700 are Tabata, Gabby S., Pedro and Marte.
    Those regulars below .610 are Jones, The Fort, Barmes (of course) and Russ Martin at an abysmal .476.
    You don’t want to know Black Hole Inge is hitting. :)
    Just an observation.
    E

  • buc em all

    I’m starting the free dejesus jr train he should take inges spot shit I’d rather see my lesbian aunt Russell out there

    • Ericfg

      Why? Just “why”?
      And by that I do NOT mean why a marginal, AAAA player would make one iota of difference over Black Hole Inge on the ML roster.

  • westonian420

    If Mercer keeps hitting I guess you have to play him but he looks like he has concrete shoes on at shortstop. Every time he plays I find myself wondering how the hell all these slow ground balls are getting through. He fields what he gets to but he don’t get to $h!t

  • http://www.facebook.com/rico.costa2 Rico Costa

    I can’t believe I’d ever see the day when there would be a debate over the Bucs having TOO MANY quality pitchers! Nice problem, don’t you think??