First Pitch: Remember All of Those High Beta Players From the Off-Season?

Over the winter there was a lot of talk about how the Pittsburgh Pirates were adding a lot of high beta players. The term first came up when David Todd described Francisco Liriano as a high beta player, pointing out that there were many possible outcomes for his 2013 season, ranging from very bad to very good. I wrote about how the Pirates had a roster full of those players, and how the 2013 season would depend on the success/failure rate of those guys. The article was a convenient “13 players in 2013″ approach, and can be viewed here. Now that we’re beyond the halfway point of the season, let’s see how those players have performed. Keep in mind that this article was written in late December, so it didn’t include anyone acquired after that point.

Starling Marte – I wrote that Marte needed to improve his average or his walks to have more value as an everyday player. He has a 3.5% walk rate, so that hasn’t improved, but he is hitting for a .291 average. Add in his power, speed, and defense and there’s no wonder why he has a 3.6 WAR on the season.

Travis Snider – He had a lot of injuries right after the trade last year, and the hope was that he would finally live up to his potential this year. That hasn’t happened, and Snider currently has a .226/.297/.332 line.

Jerry Sands – He was one of the main pieces in the Joel Hanrahan trade. Mark Melancon (who we’ll get to later) and Stolmy Pimentel have performed so well that Sands doesn’t matter. That’s good, because he’s struggling with a .205/.317/.331 line in Triple-A this year.

Jose Tabata – Tabata was the forgotten man in the pre-season, but he’s been the best right-fielder so far this year. He has a .293/.351/.431 line in 136 plate appearances this year. His time has been limited due to injuries. He also has a small sample size. Travis Snider got off to a similar start in April, then faded. So it’s too early to say what Tabata is doing is legit, but right now he’s looking good.

Clint Robinson – This was during the time where you had to entertain the Garrett Jones trade rumors, even though we’ve been hearing rumors surrounding Jones for the last three years without the Pirates dealing him. Robinson was waived at the end of Spring Training, and claimed by the Blue Jays.

James McDonald – McDonald was the definition of high beta last year. He went from putting up ace numbers to putting up numbers of a minor leaguer. Unfortunately he struggled again this year, had lower velocity, and has been on the disabled list since May.

Francisco Liriano has been playing like a top of the rotation starter. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Francisco Liriano has been playing like a top of the rotation starter. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Francisco Liriano – Liriano drew a lot of comparisons to A.J. Burnett last year as a bounce back candidate who could benefit from a move to the NL. The start tonight was obviously a bad one, but on the season Liriano has a 2.00 ERA in 76.2 innings, with a 9.4 K/9 and a 3.3 BB/9. So far we’ve seen the best outcome — Liriano putting up top of the rotation results.

Jeff Locke – I wrote that Locke had the potential to be a strong fourth starter and needed to carry his skill over to the majors. He has been much more than that this year. He has a 2.15 ERA in 109 innings, with a 6.0 K/9 and a 3.9 BB/9. His secondary numbers suggest a regression, with a 3.81 FIP. However, that’s still better than his pre-season upside.

Kyle McPherson – McPherson was in the same situation as Locke, only he had limited success in the majors last season. This would have been a great year for him to establish himself in the majors. Unfortunately he was injured early in the year and is out for the season.

Jason Grilli – The only way Grilli was a high beta player was if you thought there was any significance from moving to the ninth inning. He was dominant last year, and he’s been even better this year.

Mark Melancon – A lot of Pirates bloggers, myself included, looked past Melancon’s poor ERA last year and had him pegged as a bounce back candidate. I don’t think anyone saw this coming. He has an 0.81 ERA in 44.1 innings, with a 9.3 K/9 and an 0.8 BB/9.

Charlie Morton – The question with Morton was whether the 2011 version would return once he was healthy. So far that has been the case. He has a 3.19 ERA in 31 innings, which is a limited sample size. His advanced metrics suggest a regression, but his numbers would still be in the number four starter range.

Gerrit Cole – I noted that Cole might not reach the majors at his full potential. That has been the case so far. Cole has a 3.89 ERA in 41.2 innings, with a 5.4 K/9 and a 1.9 BB/9. His advanced metrics line up with those numbers. He’s not dominating, but he’s providing the Pirates with a strong starting pitcher.

It’s hard to imagine where the Pirates would be without the above group of players. Obviously not all of them broke out. High beta means that you’re going to see some players struggle while others succeed. Out of the guys who have succeeded, a lot have been difference makers. Grilli and Melancon have led the bullpen. Liriano and Locke have been the best starting pitchers in the rotation. Cole and Morton both arrived at the right time to help a rotation plagued by injuries. Marte has been the second most valuable position player on the team, and has the 20th best WAR among position players in the majors.

Most of the success has come from the pitchers on this list, and the Pirates have been successful this year because of their pitching and not because of their weak offense. They probably need to add a first baseman or a right fielder at the trade deadline. The benefit of so many of the above players performing well is that right field is one of the few positions of need, unlike previous years where you could choose from 3-4 positions to upgrade.

Links and Notes

**Episode 3 of the Pirates Roundtable can be viewed here. This week’s episode features James Santelli as the host, along with Ed Giles of In Clemente WeatherMichael Waterloo of Pittsburgh Sporting NewsSteve Petrella of MLB.comCory of Three Rivers Burgh Blog, and Brian McElhinney of Raise The Jolly Roger.

**2013 Pittsburgh Pirates International Signing Tracker.

**Trade Values: Alexei Ramirez.

**Hey, Bud Selig: Time to Let MLB Players in the Olympics.

**Prospect Watch: Pimentel Solid In Loss, Allie Drives In Four Runs.

**Minor League Schedule: Rodriguez Looks For First Win With Bradenton.

**DSL Prospect Watch: Pirates Shut Out Mets, De La Cruz Homers Again.

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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  • emjayinTN

    And yeas, the Pirates are very fortunate to have been successful in most of those cases, and you can even throw in Russell Martin, because he has meant much more to this team than I expected going into the season. A few other points – The White Sox have plenty of talent, but nothing seems to click. Rios got jerked out of the lineup last night for dogging out a ground ball that the SS ended up bobbling and would have given the WS a run if he would have hustled out of the box. Alexei Ramirez may be the only player in the majors who walks less than Marte and his offensive WAR is dropping substantially the past few years – not the type of player I want to invest in for the next few years. My personal opinion is that the Pirates have more than enough talent to win, and some players just need to step up and decide whether they want to be winners or not. And finally, is there any information on Walker’s injury, rehab?

  • jon6er

    Good defense and the Reds don’t score 5 runs. It is that simple. Jordy has a ball go under his glove which may have been a hit anyway or possibly an out but not a double play. But why Pedro is even with the bag in a one run game with the pitcher on third and a guy on first and one out is fricking ridiculous. He needs to be at double play depth. If he playing where he should it is an inning ending double play. What was the coaching staff’s reasoning for that? It is ludicrous if it was to have a play at the plate with the pitcher running (and yes we all know Leake is a good athlete) and the double play in order. I have seen some of these “unique” Hurdle defenses cost us some games already.

    • http://www.facebook.com/matt.beam.16 Matt Beam

      agree on the Defense last night. When Neal returns, I have to think Barmes has earned at least equal playing time at short with Mercer, his hitting has been much better lately while Mercer has regressed

      • buster09

        jon6er : +3 on the Pedro positioning. Baffled the hell out of me !

  • http://www.facebook.com/matt.beam.16 Matt Beam

    just imagine what Marte can become (or even Pedro for that matter) with better strike zone discipline… I’m less concerned about their walks and just being more disciplined/capable of only swinging at balls in the zone.

    Last night was a classic example for both… PA went fishing for a slider in the dirt vs Parra in a crucial situation late in the game with runners on base.

    Marte ended up singling vs Chapman in the 9th on a 3-2 pitch, but should never have been in that position as all 5 of those pitches that led to the 3-2 count were balls, Marte has to realize when down 2 in the 9th that he needs to find a way on base and if a pitcher is struggling with control you have to be patient enough to take a walk… he’s a tremendous talent but his baserunning and plate approach sometimes leaving you cursing at the TV.

    He’ll never steal as many bases but Marte’s all around game reminds me of Rickey Henderson with two HUGE differences, Marte is a much better OF but Rickey had great plate discipline

    • Gates

      Don’t get me wrong, I love Marte and think he will end up being a beast for us, but a Ricky Henderson he is not. I remember watching Ricky and those A’s teams growing up and they were awesome.

      I loved using the A’s on RBI baseball for the NES, ah the good ol’ days!

    • buster09

      Matt ; Pedro’s AB that you mention might not have been quite as bad if he wouldn’t have taken that BP fastball in the middle for strike one. I love the guy,but like Marte’,he can leave me cussing at the TV.