First Pitch

First Pitch: The Six Year Plan, and the Next Six Years

First Pitch: The Six Year Plan, and the Next Six Years

Austin Meadows and Neal Huntington

Pirates GM Neal Huntington (right) was hired six years ago. (Courtesy: Pittsburgh Pirates)

Six years ago, on September 25th, 2007, the Pittsburgh Pirates hired Neal Huntington to be their new General Manager. Six years later, that looks like one of the most important moves the team has made.

When Huntington took over, the Pirates had almost nothing to work with. Their farm system had Andrew McCutchen and Neil Walker. There were guys who would later be developed into major league players, like Starling Marte and Tony Watson, but that development came under the new group. The major league team had a group of players who were losing 94-95 games per year, with Jason Bay and a lot of average veteran players close to free agency and starting their career declines. It was not a good situation.

Six years later the Pirates have one of the top farm systems in the game. They also have a team that is going to the playoffs, and already has 91 wins on the season. Everyone hates the traditional “five-year plans”, but when you think about the state of the organization in late 2007, it’s amazing how Huntington and his staff have turned everything around in just six years. It would be one thing to break the losing streak and have a good farm system. But to be legit contenders with a top farm system that will sustain this success? That’s everything you could have hoped for six years ago. In fact, it was a dream that seemed to be unobtainable.

It’s no secret that I’ve been a Neal Huntington supporter all this time. I’ve criticized moves he has made, but for the most part I’ve felt that he had the organization heading in the right direction. I’ve taken a lot of criticism about that over the years, as recently as six months ago. I’ve been called an apologist, shill, and much worse. That’s all because I thought that the Pirates — it’s clear now they were heading in the right direction — were heading in the right direction.

For so long, people were focused on the losing streak, and they weren’t looking at the important things that were going on in the minors. The Pirates weren’t just collecting high draft picks. They were spending in the middle rounds, which is something the previous groups didn’t do often enough, if at all. They built a Dominican Academy, and upped the international budget from “we don’t care about international free agents” to about $3 M per year. They were willing to go over that amount if special talent came around, and they did so in 2010 when they signed Luis Heredia. Simply put, they were building from within.

The focus was only on the won/loss record, and the idea that more money would equal a better team. But you can’t build a winner by just throwing money at the 25-man roster. You have to build from the ground up. You have to build a good team without money, before you get a team that is worth the money. One thing I’ve said repeatedly on this site is that there’s a specific method that every small market team takes to increase payroll.

1. The team puts together a group that is close to contending, building from within.

2. The attendance increases.

3. The payroll increases as the team adds to that group, or pays to keep that group together.

We saw the first step play out in 2011. The team fell apart at the end, but they were contenders that summer, and saw their attendance jump 300,000 fans. That off-season they brought in a few free agents. Rod Barajas and Erik Bedard were busts. Clint Barmes has provided good defense, no offense, and while he hasn’t provided his full contract value, he hasn’t been worthless. But the biggest move was when they traded for A.J. Burnett in a clear salary dump by the Yankees.

The 2012 team might have been the team that completed the actual five-year plan. Instead, they collapsed over the final two months, and finished below .500. The attendance went up slightly, and the team moved closer to contention. Once again, the Pirates added to the team over the off-season. This time it worked wonders. Francisco Liriano and Russell Martin were the top free agent additions, and both have been amazing. If you’re looking at the best free agent additions this past off-season, they might be the top two on the list. Jason Grilli was also brought back as the closer on a hometown discount, but still a high price for a reliever considering what the Pirates usually paid. But it wasn’t just about spending money. One of the best moves actually shed over $6 M in payroll. Joel Hanrahan was traded for four players, with one of those players being Mark Melancon. That swap alone has made the trade a clear win.

The Pirates have completed a successful rebuild under Huntington. They did what teams like Milwaukee, Tampa Bay, Minnesota, Oakland, and other small market teams have done in the past. Build a contender from within, then use the increased attendance to add key pieces to that contender. Now it’s time for step two of the plan.

If you look at a lot of small market teams, you will see a key difference between the teams who are limited by the “small market window” and teams who remain successful for years. I like to call this game “What Would the Rays Do?”.

The Rays haven’t been the best at drafting over the last few years, but they have managed to remain successful. The reason for that is because they stuck with the plan that got them there. They didn’t fall into a trap like the Brewers, where they abandoned the “build from within” approach and traded their farm system to sell out to “the window”. They made tough choices. They started young, inexperienced players, hoping to get cost controlled production, rather than free agent priced production. They made the difficult trades. They shipped out a ton of players with 1-2 years on their contracts. They let popular players walk a year or two early, rather than trying to bring them back at high prices only to watch those players become dead money on the payroll. There were some exceptions (Evan Longoria was extended), but for the most part the Rays didn’t get attached to anyone.

The best example of this is Carl Crawford. He was a star. The Rays let him walk, and he signed with the Red Sox. It’s doubtful that Tampa could have beat out Boston for Crawford, but it didn’t matter. They replaced him with Desmond Jennings, while Crawford quickly went downhill and was salary dumped to the Dodgers, where he continued to be dead weight. Meanwhile, Jennings has been a 3+ WAR player in each of the last two seasons, compared to 2.7 WAR total from Crawford.

There’s another team in Pittsburgh that takes this same approach, and used to do it well: the Steelers. For years they let their top players walk as free agents, replacing them with young players through the draft. They were one of the best teams when it came to the draft, and used that to make sure they never missed a step when a free agent walked. Sure enough, the departing player had 1-2 more good years, while the rookie went on to seamlessly replace the lost production and keep the team competitive. Not so much this year though.

That’s what the Pirates are going to have to do. The five six-year plan is over. The team is competitive. They’ve got a top farm system. And when you have that combo, there is no such thing as a “window”. You just have to be willing to make the right moves. So far, Huntington has made the right moves. In order for the Pirates to remain competitive, the future is going to have to include some unpopular decisions. Huntington hasn’t been afraid to make those decisions (SEE: Nate McLouth trade, Joel Hanrahan trade…actually, pretty much any trade or transaction from 2008-2012).

So here’s to the next six years. Hopefully when we look back in 2019, we’ll be talking about how the Pirates don’t miss Neil Walker because of Alen Hanson, they don’t miss Pedro Alvarez because of “future draft pick since they don’t have an internal replacement right now”, and they don’t miss Andrew McCutchen because of your pick between Austin Meadows, Josh Bell, Barrett Barnes, Harold Ramirez, or someone from one of the drafts in between now and then. None of that sounds exciting right now, but the payoff is that if the plan is successful, then the Pirates will still be competing on a regular basis in 2019, and will still be set up to compete in future years.

Links and Notes

**Should Francisco Liriano Start the Wild Card Game on the Road?

**Playoff Race Update: This Weekend Determines Home Field in the WC Game

  • emjayinTN

    Tim: It is a great time to be a Pirate fan. This management team has delivered on everything stated when they first came to town. It has not been a smooth ride due to some of the moves that were made regarding popular players like Bay, McLouth, Sanchez, Hanrahan, and Wilson, but this team and system is so loaded right now that they will be competitive for many years into the future. Huntington is a lock for GM of the Year, because of the way he and Frank Coonelly went about putting this team together. There are other teams who have surprised this year, but almost every one of them have done some big time spending to buy a competitive team. The Pirates did it the right way.

  • TNBucs

    I agree with what the general plan needs to look like. However, I think McCutchen may stay–he’s well on his way to becoming an iconic figure in Pittsburgh, and I think the Pirates and McCutchen may both realize there’s value in that that goes beyond WAR.

    If there is any thought of this, then perhaps we’ll see a semi-blockbuster in the next couple of years involving Polanco and/or Meadows to fill a position of need (3B? SS? 1B?).

    • I couldn’t imagine AMac in another uni. It’d break my heart.


      • leadoff

        I can only think of one player that would have broken my heart if they traded him, that would have been Clemente, it bothered me a lot when they traded Frank Thomas and Ralph Kiner. I remember the day they traded Ralph like it was yesterday, not very popular move and no way AMac goes that cheaply.

    • Right now McCutchen is under team control through his age 31 season. After that I don’t see him returning, since he’ll probably get a mega contract from a team like the Yankees, Dodgers, etc. The only way I see him sticking around is if he takes a lesser deal to play with the Pirates.

      Also, that might be good from a fan relations standpoint, but signing age 32-38 Andrew McCutchen won’t be good from a baseball standpoint. He’s not going to be the same player he is now, or even the same player he will be the rest of his current contract. He’s going to be less productive and more expensive, as pretty much every big free agent is at that age.

      • TNBucs

        I agree with all that. It just seems to me that maybe once a generation or two a player comes along that you overpay because he brands your franchise. McCutchen would have to be willing to give a bit of hometown discount, but he’s already done that once.

        Of course there are a lot of unknowns. Will 2013 be McCutchen’s peak year? Or is he on track for a HOF career? But McCutchen is arguably the most important Pirate since Clemente in terms of giving the team an identity–he’s more than just a great player.

        • BostonsCommon

          “McCutchen would have to be willing to give a bit of hometown discount, but he’s already done that once.”

          I don’t think he, or anyone else for that matter, realized what kind of discount he was giving the Pirates.

          This is one of the best players in baseball. He’s improved every season, and will finish this year as an 8 WAR player, and likely MVP.

          His contract is the most team friendly in baseball. I don’t even think there is an argument anymore.

  • I hate that ‘5 year plan’ crap. The ONLY people who ever mentioned it were the media. NH never said it would take 5 years.


  • “It’s no secret that I’ve been a Neal Huntington supporter all this time. I’ve criticized moves he has made, but for the most part I’ve felt that he had the organization heading in the right direction. I’ve taken a lot of criticism about that over the years, as recently as six months ago. ”

    Tim….I feel your pain. I was raked across the coals more than once, esp by a former PG beat writer. It wasn’t fun, but I am enjoying all of those ‘haters’ eating crow.


  • rsborelli

    Pirates front office deserves a lot of credit for staying the course and holding to what they believed to be the right path. Was not an easy situation to walk into. I remember lots of snickering of the “best management team in sports” comment, which was a very bold statement to make! Not saying that is what we have now, but this crew has certainly proved it knew what it was doing. The resolve of Neal Huntington and his management – as well as their faith in a plan – should be commended. They have certainly positioned this thing for a long run of success.

    • NorCal Buc

      WHO remembers the comment by MISTER NUTTING over the past off-season, wehn he siad the goal THIS year is “to get to the World Series”?

      He was lambasted by the PG writers, people on the PG Pirates Blog, and everywhere else. Except by me, and some others who saw the POTENTIAL in the following – — –

      57 to 71 to 79.

      I agree with TNBucs, that McCutchen MAY VERY WELL play his entire career in this adopted “hahm-tawn”.

      I feel Andrew McCutchen would like to follow in the footsteps of Roberto Clemente and Willie Stargell, and have a place in people’s hearts that will last forever. And that is to never wear a competitor’s uniform.

      The success of this team, and the adoring response of Western Pennsylvanians, has led to a dynamic shift of attitude within the sports world, best exemplified by Russell Martin, Marlon Byrd and Justin Morneau.

      Martin, Byrd and Morneau were all thrilled to come to PNC. They are now not the only ones.

      • rsborelli

        Cutch IS that kind of guy. Cannot see him wearing another uniform – at least, not by his own choosing.

        • impliedi

          I’m assuming that this is just the sentimentality factor of fandom, but I’m never understood why people believe that athletes care about playing with just one team for their entire careers.

          It seems to me that if you’re a fan of Andrew McCutchen, you would want to see he get his just rewards,. Obviously, none of us knows what McCutchen will be like at age 31: best player in baseball, out of baseball due to injury or some freak decline in skills, or somewhere in between, but if he continues on the trajectory that most of us believe, I fully believe that Andrew McCutchen should be paid as one of the best in the game, whether that contract comes from Pittsburgh or New York or whomever. And I will be happy for him, when that day comes, whether it’s to remain a Pirates or sign elsewhere.

    • NorCal Buc

      rsb – “….Not saying that is what we have now…:

      I will say it. THIS IS the best management team in sports”


  • leadoff

    The Steelers are proving this year that hanging on to players too long is a bad idea, that is a change from what they used to do, Tim was right they let them walk, now they don’t, now they have very few developed young players.
    I have long said that the Pirate fans should not get too close to these players, because they will be gone before you know it, the Pirates can’t afford to keep them and they should stay with players in their prime. Remember this, the Pirates do have one of the finest farms in the land, but they can’t sustain it at the level it is at because of drafting so late, which we hope they continue to do, but the value of players like McCutchen, Alvarez, Cole and Walker on the open market should help to restock that system and keep them a winner for a long time. Will people once again hate Huntington, the answer to that is yes, but not for losing, it will be for trading their favorite players.

    • I disagree that they can’t sustain this. Look at their current top prospects:

      1. Jameson Taillon – 1st round, 2nd overall
      2. Gregory Polanco – Int FA
      3. Tyler Glasnow – 5th round pick
      4. Alen Hanson – Int FA
      5. Austin Meadows – 1st round, 9th overall
      6. Josh Bell – 2nd round (but under previous draft rules)
      7. Nick Kingham – 4th round
      8. Luis Heredia – Int FA
      9. Reese McGuire – 1st round, 14th overall
      10. Barrett Barnes – 1st round, comp pick

      They’re not going to get Taillon, Meadows, or McGuire, but they’ll replace them with other first round picks. And they will still have the chance to develop players from the later rounds and international market. The fact that they have guys like Glasnow, Kingham, Polanco, and Hanson speaks well of the development process, and suggests they should be fine even with low first round picks.

      • impliedi

        Also, there are good players to be had all throughout the draft (plus a “good” draft can be had with just a couple of good picks).

        I was looking back at the Pirates drafts (from 1995 to 2009), and there’s been some pretty good players taken outside of the Top 10. Obviously, not all of them All-Stars, but a bunch of major league-caliber players (or close).

        11: Neil Walker, Andrew McCutchen
        19: Sean Burnett
        45: Tom Gorzelanny
        48: Tanner Scheppers (did not sign, sorry to bring him up!)
        49: Vic Black
        59: Ryan Doumit
        69: Bronson Arroyo
        79: Jordy Mercer
        84: Jeremy Guthrie (did not sign)
        89: Chris Young
        110: Jared Hughes
        144: Justin Wilson
        174: Robbie Grossman
        193: Matt Capps
        278: Tony Watson
        324: Stephen Drew (did not sign)
        428: Kyle McPherson
        538: Joe Beimel
        594: Zach Duke
        599: Jose Bautista
        625: Phil Irwin
        749: Nate McLouth
        902: Mike Gonzalez
        973: Nyjer Morgan
        1079: Scott Baker (did not sign)
        1134: Rajai Davis
        1316: Chris Capuano (did not sign)

        • impliedi

          Or to put it another way, here are the draft positions of the NL Central-winning Cardinals. Of their starting 8, none were drafted higher than the 49th pick of the draft. For their starting rotation, all 5 guys were drafted in the top 100 picks, however, none were higher than number 19. If next year’s draft were held today, the 19th pick would be by the Royals who are currently sitting 9 games over .500. Even if the Pirates become a decade-long powerhouse, there will certainly be years that they would finish just 9 games over. But here are the Cardinals :

          Matt Holliday (210)
          Jon Jay (74)
          Carlos Beltran (49)
          David Freese (273)
          Daniel Descalso (112)
          Matt Carpenter (399)
          Allen Craig (256)
          Yadier Molina (113)
          Adam Wainwright (29)
          Lance Lynn (39)
          Shelby Miller (19)
          Joe Kelly (98)
          Michael Wacha (19)

          • Jake Oswalt

            Matt Adams (599)

    • TNBucs

      It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. You let some (almost all) leave as they age and become expensive, but there should be exceptions. So yes, Alvarez, Walker, Cole, Marte, … may all leave when the time is right. But that doesn’t mean you can’t keep McCutchen.

    • I don’t know the Cardinals and the Braves seem to do ok, finding and developing talent, despite drafting “late” year after year.

  • emjayinTN

    The Pirates secured help down the stretch by giving up 4 “non-essential” prospects who they got through the draft. All of the top prospects are still in place and will be coming to Pittsburgh soon – the first wave by June 2014. Going into the off season, the Pirates have normal increases to players with 2 year or long term contracts, but I see the Bucs making the following moves:

    *Clint Barmes made $5.5 mil in 2013 – Pirates sign him to a 2 year contract of $5 mil total
    *Garrett Jones made $4.5 mil in 2013 – non-tendered
    * Jeff Karstens made $2.5 mil in 2013 – non-tendered
    *James McDonald made $3.025 mil in 2013 – non-tendered

    A savings of $13 mil. It means we have to sign a strong defensive 1B with a LH power bat. I like Justin Morneau for a 3 year contract around $27 to $30 mil. Another possibility to go in a trade will be Jose Tabata and the $3 mil he will be making in 2014. It is truly beneficial to be in this position with a very strong and deep team who made the playoffs, and still have a tremendous amount of talent coming through the system.

    Players left or never came to the Pirates because they could not get national exposure – not so anymore, and a guy like Andrew McCutchen is one example, and Gerrit Cole is another. Don’t look now, but the good ol Pirates are becoming media darlings right before our eyes, and that means $$$$$ especially when it is time to negotiate TV deals. And, that means more Revenue to be able to get any parts needed or to keep these kids when they get to Arbitration and FA.

    • smurph

      emjay, your post is in conflict with the premise of this article. At least the part about paying Morneau 30 million. This is a 32-year-old player whose OPS the last 3 seasons is below .750. No thank you. I might offer him 8-8.5 for one season. No more. You can’t break the bank for what is now an average player.

      • emjayinTN

        smurph: When Morneau was terrorizing pitchers and playing excellent defense he was a hometown bargain to Minnesota for $14 mil. Now that his OPS has slipped, he is not worth $14 mil per season. Jones is going to get around $6 mil in arbitration this year and he is not hitting and has never been an adequate defensive 1B. Morneau has 36 doubles, 17 HR’s, mid 70’s RBI’s and is an excellent defensive 1B. I think PNC would be a 20-25 HR park for him. If I thought we could get him for less, I would not want to overpay. I am basically ignorant about most advanced stats, but I would be willing to bet that Morneau would be worth $9 to $10 mil a year just with his glove, arm, and field smarts. And, I think he is ready to contribute more with the bat. The Pirates have struggled with finding a solid 1B, and now that they have one, I hope they do not let him walk. I really do not have a clue of anybody else we can get for that little – any suggestions?

        • smurph

          Which is why I said offer him one year at 8 million. I don’t think Jones will get 6 million, simply because the Pirates will either try to trade him or release him. Maybe they can bring him back for less. 27-30 million is way too much to commit to a player who show no signs of being an above average player. Since joining the Pirates a month ago, he has 2 extra base hits (both doubles) with a .705 OPS, and one RBI. You have Sanchez who can platoon at 1B, so you only need a part-time 1B – hopefully one you don’t have to pay 10 million. Whether that comes from your system or a trade or a FA, I don’t know. Morneau is not worth 27-30 mnillion – my opinion.

    • PiratesFan1975

      James McDonald is not in the Pirates organization. He elected free agency after the Pirates DFA’d him then outrighted him to AAA.

    • Andrew

      I have to second smurph’s assertion, yes I am thankful for the defense Morneau has brought. He is an huge upgrade compared to Jones. However is on the wrong side of the aging curve, is slugging .329, and two of his four doubles have been shots down the line. I have yet to see this rumored mechanical adjustment that lead to those two hot weeks with the Twins. Sacrificing defense over offense makes sense at short but not a first. The Pirates need to find another Garrett Jones, not sign Morneau.

    • I don’t see them bringing back Morneau, and especially not at that price. They could get Jose Abreu for close to that annual salary.

  • smurph

    As to the article, I agree Carl Crawford is a very good example. When you see teams throwing huge money at players like Pujohls, Josh Hamilton, Joe Mauer, Vernon Wells, the best they can do is “break even” if those guys have huge seasons. If they don’t, you have dug a huge hole for yourself. Even teams like the Yankees and Red Sox built the core of their teams through their farm system. Once they had a core of solid players, then yes, they had the advantage of being able to outbid other teams for the add-on parts to make them contenders every year. But even those teams have had issues the last 2 seasons. The Red Sox had a huge salary dump last season, and the Yankees don’t look to be a playoff team again next season. Rays showed how to do it last season when they traded a SP likely to be a Cy Young contender for the next few seasons for two minor leaguers with huge upside. James Shields is a top pitcher, but he is 31 and already makes over 11 million a season. When he becomes a FA, someone (Yankees) will pay him huge money. Instead of losing him to FA, Rays got two potential ML players. Huge mistake by KC to get Shields for 2 years, when they don’t have a good enough team to make a run right now.

  • Andrew

    I recently read an article on a research paper looking at the NFL draft, with some conclusion that are relevant to the Pirates, and baseball in general. The research concluded that NFL teams do not have a measurable skill or ability to draft, that year to year the differences in outcomes level out. Chance/randomness dominate, and the worst thing a GM can do is shuffle a draft board after months of scouting and evaluation. (This somewhat contradicts Tim’s Steelers’ comparison, however the main benefit the Steelers have had is never having sustained losing thus avoiding the massively over-valued high draft slots.)

    There is so much uncertainty, (dare I say luck) that surrounds player development and drafting that treating it as a math problem to be solve is the wrong strategy. Drafting, development, roster construction, more resemble a lottery environment than a solvable probability problem. In this environment the correct method is to maximize your draws, minimize costs, and most importantly value the process.

    Clearly the Pirates front office has developed a process, and I agree it will be interesting how they continue this process. Dave Cameron had some follow up posts on USS Mariner, to his piece about the Pirates. He wrote that the Mariners had a similar plan to Pirates until 2010-11 but they abandoned it and Royals appeared to have draft and develop process that Dayton Moore threw to the wind this year. Time horizons are short for most fans, media members, as last year demonstrated. I hope the current Pirate’s organization continues the process and doesn’t fall victim to the idiotic criticism that the Rays and As have not accomplished anything because they never won a World Series.

    • smurph

      I think it depends on how far you go back Andrew. The last 20 years, I would agree. There is probably not a huge amount of difference in success levels. Exceptions might be the really bad drafting teams like the Raiders, Browns and Matt Millen era Lions. If you go back farther to the 70 & 80s, I think there was a huge difference. Teams were just starting to notice the players in the black colleges and smaller schools. The Steelers were part of the BLESTO-V scouting group who shared scouting reports back in the 70s. They intentionally held back information on John Stallworth, so they were able to get him in the 3rd (I believe) round. There is no way you could do that today.
      Yes the Steelers have held on to veterans, but the truth is 1. They have been drafting in the 2nd half of the first round pretty much every year, and 2. They have had injuries to many of their top picks the last few years. Eventually it will catch up to you, and it has with them.

    • I agree with the “lottery” comments. That’s why it’s best to have as many prospects as possible. For example, even if you’ve got Tony Sanchez, Wyatt Mathisen, and Jin-De Jhang, take Reese McGuire. Worst case, you have multiple catchers who can start in the majors, and that’s not really a problem.

  • piratemike

    This isn’t the freak team of ’97 (I think) but this team could end up being a .500 team next year.
    A lot of good things happened this year most of it with pitching. Locke pitched out of his mind for 3mths. Liriano was unhittable once his arm healed and Burnett should have been rewarded with a better W-L record, the bullpen was amazing.
    It would be a miracle for this staff to repeat that performance.
    Liriano could easily revert back to his previous ways. Can Locke recapture those first three mths? Any hope that Wandy can pitch again with any effectiveness ? Will Grilli and Melancon do it again?
    This team played about .500 ball after the all-star break and if the pitching is not up to what they did in ’13 and they don’t dramatically change the everyday lineup then .500 is the best they can hope for.
    3B is a question mark for me, 30+ homers are great but not all of them are meaningful and the rest of the package is less than great. Maybe Marnau can recapture his power but is he worth the risk and anyway he is just a platoon player now. Rightfield is the third big problem, you can’t hang your hat on Polanco next year and who knows what Tabata you’re going to get everyday. Byrd is going to ask for a big increase next year and although he has been fair he too is a risk.
    I am more than happy with what this team has done this year. What they have accomplished with all their shortcomings has been amazing but I really look forward with anticipation to see if they can solve the myriad of problems they face to have another outstanding year.

    • smurph

      Sorry, piratemike. I just disagree. Sure this could be a .500 team. But your comment “if the pitching is not up to what they did in ’13 and they don’t dramatically change the everyday lineup then .500 is the best they can hope for” I just completely disagree with. All of the things you said could happen. Liriano could regress. Locke may not pitch like he did the first 3 months. Wandy may not come back as an effective starter (he only won 6 games this year, by the way). Grilli and Melancon may not match this season. On the other hand, maybe Neil Walker has that injury-free season and hits .290 with 18 Hrs. Maybe Marte is injury-free and takes another step forward. Maybe Polanco makes it to the big team and tears it up. Maybe Pedro hits 35 HRs and raises his average to .245. Maybe Searage works his magic with a few pitchers other teams have given up on. Maybe Cole becomes an ace. This team could regress, or they could be just as good next season. We just don’t know.

    • A lot of these same things were said last year about this year’s team.

      They’re valid points about this year’s team, but the mistake is thinking that these types of things are rare. Locke pitched well in the first half, then struggled in the second half. Last year that was James McDonald. Who will it be next year?

      There’s nothing that suggests the rest of the pitching staff has been playing over their heads. The advanced metrics match up with the ERAs. So guys like Liriano, Burnett, Melancon, and Grilli should be expected to continue to dominate.

      One mistake people make with the year-to-year comparisons is failing to account for year-to-year improvements. Also, failing to account for playing time. A big example is Gerrit Cole.

      Cole was up for half the season, and he’s only been dominant for the last month. Next year they’ll be getting a full season of that production. So Gerrit Cole 2014 is an upgrade over Gerrit Cole 2013, just because of playing time. This is the same concept as Starling Marte. He played for two months with the Pirates in 2012, but was with the team most of the season this year, and as a result he made a much bigger impact. Yet last year people were saying that Marte wasn’t an upgrade from 2012-2013 because he was on the roster at the end of 2012 and on the Opening Day 2013 roster. They didn’t account for the fact that he could improve, and he’d be there all year.

      • TNBucs

        Right, when I think of next season I put a lot of hope on the idea of having the Cole and Morton of the last month for all six months. Not that they’ll dominate for all six months, but that they’ll put up a lot of quality innings.

        And one can make a reasonable case that our season-production next year will increase at every position other than CF (where it will still be high).

        OTOH, I expect our division to be tougher as the Cubs and Brewers are bound to be improved. And I expect teams like the Nationals, Giants, and D-backs to bounce back. So our path to the playoffs will be tougher. But going into this year we were worried about the impact that the Astros moving would have on our chances of breaking the streak.

      • piratemike

        SMURF, you said you disagreed with me then ended up agreeing with me.

        • smurph

          I disagree.

      • impliedi

        And let’s not forget…. This year’s Opening Day rosters included Jonathan Sanchez and James McDonald in the rotation, who have been swapped for Gerrit Cole and Francisco Liriano.

        Not trying to get too excited here, but I think the 2014 team will be even better than the 2013 one.

        Most of the team returns.
        McKenry gets replaced by Sanchez.
        Snider gets replaced by Lambo.
        Mercer gets all of those starts that Barmes had early in the season.
        The Pirates sign a RF or 1B this offseason.
        Polanco and Taillon make their debuts.

        Even if Burnett retires, I still think the 2014 could end up being a better team. Doesn’t guarantee that they’ll get more wins, but I think they’ll be better. Plus, hopefully they won’t repeat having 14 losses against the Cubs and Brewers next year, like this year.

        This is going to be an exciting ride for a while!

  • piratemike

    I think all of you must agree that having the same results pitching wise is not guaranteed. For about 5 months this was the top staff in MLB.
    We all have seen how things can fall apart quickly with injuries and pitchers relapsing.
    The thing that kept this team from dominating has been the everyday lineup.
    I don’t blame NH for that he has done the best he could given the limitations that MLB puts on small market teams. They would be happy with NY or Boston vs LA World Series every year.
    But somehow NH needs to solve 1B and RF, if he can fill those two positions Pedro would be easier to live with. Maybe Polanco can fill the need but next year he won’t be up until late June or July and you can’t count on him tearing it up from the get-go.
    That is why I said I’m looking forward to the off season moves.

First Pitch

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, 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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