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 – 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 Weather, Michael Waterloo of Pittsburgh Sporting News, Steve Petrella of MLB.com, Cory of Three Rivers Burgh Blog, and Brian McElhinney of Raise The Jolly Roger.