First Pitch: The 2014 Pirates Are a Better Team Than the 2013 Pirates

Every off-season you see the same type of analysis when it comes to evaluating how a team has improved for the following season. It’s always a basic formula that subtracts the players who are leaving from the end of the season roster, and adds in only the players who project to be on the 25-man roster on Opening Day the following year. And the whole process is wrong.

The Pirates saw A.J. Burnett, Marlon Byrd, Justin Morneau, Garrett Jones, Clint Barmes and others walk as free agents at the end of the season. Byrd, Morneau, and Jones have signed elsewhere. Barmes just re-signed with the Pirates today. Burnett is still in limbo, deciding whether he will retire.

The Pirates have added Edinson Volquez, Chris Stewart, Jaff Decker, and Miles Mikolas so far this off-season. And you can add Barmes, just so he appears on each list.

The incorrect way of evaluating things compares these two lists. Edinson Volquez isn’t as good as A.J. Burnett. The Pirates lost Byrd, Morneau, and Jones, and so far they’ve only added one player for those positions: Decker, who is a depth option. Barmes is back, but most people don’t place the proper value on defense, even though the Pirates won with defense last year. And that means the addition of Stewart is also questioned.

Overall, if you’re using the wrong method to evaluate how next year’s team looks compared to the 2013 team, then things will easily look worse. But again, that’s the wrong way to evaluate things, and I’ll show you why.

The simple solution is that the end of the year roster has nothing to do with the fact that the Pirates won 94 games, made the playoffs, won the Wild Card game, and lost in five to the Cardinals in the NLDS. The responsibility for all of that comes from the roster over the entire season. Likewise, the record during the 2014 season will be impacted by every player who appears in the majors next year. You can’t just compare the last day of one year with the first day of another year. You need to compare every day of one year with every day of another year. So let’s do that.

The 2014 Pirates will have something the 2013 Pirates didn't have: Gerrit Cole in April-June. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

The 2014 Pirates will have something the 2013 Pirates didn’t have: Gerrit Cole in April-June. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

The Rotation

The Wrong Evaluation: The Pirates will bring back Francisco Liriano, Gerrit Cole, and Charlie Morton, but they’re downgrading from A.J. Burnett to Edinson Volquez.

The Right Evaluation: The Pirates will be bringing back Liriano, Cole, and Morton. A key difference is that the 2013 Pirates only had Cole and Morton for half a season. They had Liriano for five months. They could have all three players for a full season in 2014. Even though Burnett to Volquez is a downgrade, the rotation already includes built in upgrades. I’d say the value of half a season extra of Cole (who is now adjusted to the majors), half a season extra of Morton (has his command back), and one extra month of Liriano, plus Volquez is a better situation than the 2013 pitching staff.

But what about injuries? It’s true you can’t count on six months from Liriano, Cole, and Morton. Injures do happen. But in the “Wrong Evaluation” you’re not really accounting for injuries either. The risk is the same in both evaluations. The difference is that the right method points out that you have a chance for the top three starters to pitch more than they did in 2013. Also, I’d point out that the 2013 team saw 11 starting pitchers in the first three months of the season. It would be hard for the 2014 injuries to top that early season turnover.

Jeff Locke

The Wrong Evaluation: Jeff Locke was great for the first three months of the season, then fell apart in the second half. He’s not going to do that again in 2014.

The Right Evaluation: Jeff Locke was great for the first three months of the season, then fell apart in the second half. That’s actually a pretty common thing that happens to players on every team, every year. Here are other Pirates examples of players who had a few good months that stood out from the rest of the year:

2012: James McDonald – 2.44 ERA through the end of June

2011: Paul Maholm – 3.17 ERA through the end of June

2010: Ross Ohlendorf – 3.02 ERA in the final two months

We can also go back and include the annual Pirates pitcher who had a great season, raised hope, then never put those numbers up again. The point is that every year a player outperforms expectations. It might not be Jeff Locke next year, but to act like 25 human beings will only either perform to expectations or perform below expectations is taking a very unrealistic and “glass is completely empty” view.

Marlon Byrd

The Wrong Evaluation: The Pirates are downgrading in right field from Marlon Byrd.

The Right Evaluation: The Pirates only had Marlon Byrd for one month in 2013, and for the rest of that season they had the same outfielders they will have in 2014. Worst case, those outfielders have another combined horrible season, and then they call on top prospect Gregory Polanco in late June or July.

But Prospects Aren’t Guaranteed: Neither is the production of “established” major league players. Also, if you’re thinking this about Polanco, you’ve probably never seen Polanco, and you’re ignoring that he’s currently demolishing the pitching in the Dominican Winter Leagues. That pitching is largely the equivalent of Triple-A or better.

First Base

The Wrong Evaluation: The Pirates need to upgrade at first base this off-season or they won’t be as good as last year.

The Right Evaluation: The first basemen last year who were responsible for hitting right-handers were bad. The Pirates don’t have a first baseman yet, but none of the available options are worse than what Garrett Jones and Justin Morneau did in 2013, and the Pirates are almost certain to add one of the available guys by the time the off-season is over.

That’s a lot of speculation: Anyone looking at the first base market shouldn’t be worried about whether the Pirates will eventually get a first baseman.

Clint Barmes is back with the Pirates. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Clint Barmes is back with the Pirates. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Defense

The Wrong Evaluation: The Pirates didn’t have anyone who could hit on their bench last year, and focused too much on defense. They’re doing the same thing this year with Clint Barmes and Chris Stewart, and they won’t get lucky again.

The Right Evaluation: The Pirates had a clear plan to win using pitching, ground balls, and advanced defensive positioning and shifts. They won because of this plan, not luck. They will stay strong defensively by keeping Barmes, and they will only get stronger boosting the defense with Stewart.

Explaining Luck: Usually “luck” is a word used when you have no explanation for why an event occurred. When you do have an explanation for why an event occurred, and you just don’t want to accept that, you can’t just ignore the explanation and chalk it up to “luck”. The Pirates were largely successful last year because of their focus on defense. This can’t be called luck.

The Budget and Depth

The Wrong Evaluation: The Pirates could have used Tony Sanchez instead of Chris Stewart, one of their internal infielders instead of Barmes, Jeff Locke instead of Volquez, and used all of that money for a better player.

The Right Evaluation: The Pirates won last year despite injuries because they had amazing depth. Using Sanchez over Stewart means that you’ve got one less player between you and another 2011 catching situation. The same all over the field. Even if a player starts the year in Triple-A, he could still impact the team during the 2014 season. If you think the upgrade brought on by one player is more important than depth at three or four different positions, then you’re putting yourself at major risk of having a bad all-around team.

The 2013 Rotation: If there was a poster for the importance of “Depth”, it would include members of the 2013 rotation.

Starling Marte

Starling Marte should continue to improve his game in the majors. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Let’s Ignore Everyone Else

The Wrong Evaluation: We should only focus on players leaving and players coming in. Everything else will be the same.

The Right Evaluation: The Pirates have a lot of young players on their team, and young players are more likely to improve year-to-year as they gain experience.

The Doomsday Prediction: Try to avoid Doomsday predictions where everyone who had a good year can’t possibly repeat, everyone who had a normal year will get worse, and everyone who had a bad year will stay the same. Every year some players outperform, some underperform, and some perform to expectations. If your scenario is “What if (list of everything going wrong)?” then you don’t have a realistic scenario.

Look at How the Team is Built

The Pirates are trending upwards. Last year they added Gerrit Cole for the second half of the season. This year they will have him for a full season and he will already be adjusted to the majors (SEE: September 2013). Right away, on paper, that’s an upgrade. And that kind of thing is going to happen every year. Jameson Taillon and Gregory Polanco are next in line. Tyler Glasnow, Nick Kingham, and Alen Hanson are possibilities in 2015. The Pirates are now in position to keep getting better and better each year thanks to their farm system.

They also have a young team, with most of the key players under team control. If you look at the guys they lost from the 2013 team, the only player who is really significant is A.J. Burnett. Marlon Byrd was good, but was only around for a month. Everyone else is easily replaceable. Let’s assume Burnett doesn’t come back. That means you’re losing a pitcher who had a 4.0 WAR last year. But let’s also consider the full season values of Cole, Morton, and Liriano. You’re adding an extra 4.2 WAR in 2014 with those three available all year, based on their 2013 WAR. Plus you’re adding Volquez to that mix, who was worth 0.4 WAR in a horrible season last year, but should see improvements under Searage.

That’s just back of the napkin math. There are a lot of variables involved here. Those three pitchers might perform better or worse than their 2013 numbers. Burnett might perform better or worse. Injury concerns all around. But the point is that the Pirates are really only potentially losing one important player. Even with his loss, the 2014 rotation looks stronger overall, or at least equal to the 2013 rotation, which was one of the best in the league.

Bottom line is that the Pirates had a legit contending team last year. They didn’t lose much from that team, they’ll have a lot of players for a full season this year, and they’ll have upgrades that they didn’t have last year. It might be easier to just compare the rosters at the end of September and the beginning of April, but it’s also wrong. The right way to do things is to look at the big picture and compare the entire year of one season to an entire year of another. Usually the best way to evaluate two years…is to actually evaluate two years.

Links and Notes

**The 2014 Prospect Guide is finished! Well, probably by the time you’re reading this in the morning that will be true. If you’re reading this right when the article goes up at midnight, then hopefully I just have three more reports to finish. I’ll be sending in the order for the first shipment of books Friday afternoon. I can’t really guarantee Christmas delivery, since I don’t have much control over the USPS, but I’m going to try and get the books out by the end of next week, and hopefully have them arriving the 23rd or 24th. What I can say is that if you don’t have an order in tomorrow afternoon, I can’t guarantee that your order will go out with the first shipment next week. Basically, order tomorrow if you want to ensure that I have a book to ship to you next week when I get the first shipment. Place your pre-orders here.

**Pirates Agree to Terms With Clint Barmes. I like that Barmes was brought back. They’ve got a roster full of ground ball pitchers, so it only makes sense to bring back one of the best defensive shortstops to help with that system.

**How Much Bargaining Power Does James Loney Have? More thoughts on the first base market. Even though players are being taken off the market, I still think the Pirates could be in a good position to land Loney, and for less than his current asking price.

**2013 Rule 5 Draft: Wei-Chung Wang Drafted by the Brewers. A bit of a surprise that Wang was drafted, and that he was even available. Find out why in the article. We had him as the number 30 prospect before the draft.

**Winter Leagues: Big Games From Lambo and Polanco. John Dreker recaps all of the latest Winter League results.

**New Player Pages: Edinson VolquezFelipe GonzalezA.J. MorrisTyler Sample

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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  • babeadamsforthehall

    Those are some seriouly rose colored glasses you got there Mr. Williams. Nowhere do you mention how many things happened to click in 2013 that were quite the surprise to say the least. To expect so many things to, once again, click in the same manner is highly debatable at best. Would be nice to see the Pirates actually upgrade the team.

    I know. Too much to ask.

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

      That’s a very vague comment. What are all of these things?

      • babeadamsforthehall

        What do you mean? All of the things that converged to give us the surprise of a season that was 2013? I really need to rehash all of the things that went right for 2013 to happen as it did?

        Here’s an exercise for you. Get pictures of the entire Pirates pitching staff from 2013. Tack them up on a wall, then walk about 10 paces from it. Take a dart and toss it at said wall. Chances are pretty good that it will stick into someone who had either a career year or at least had a year that was not expected to be as good as it was.

        You are going to need that to happen again for 2014 to look anything like 2013. Just take a look at the projected starters as of right now (which admittedly can change):

        Cole – Seems like the only lock to be above average of the group. Will he be the pitcher from his first 10 games or the one from his last 10? Either way, he is still pretty darn good.

        Liriano – Has never had back to back good seasons. Forget about great seasons. Just good ones. Can he do it for the first time in 2014? Can you count on that?

        Locke – ??????????

        Wandy – ????????????

        Morton – Was very impressive as #3 type. Seems fairly capab;e of repeating.

        Edinson Volquez – One of the worst pitchers in the majors last year, if not THE worst. Counting on anything from him is a big mistake.

        Taillon – Hopefully comes up, but has not dominated in the minors. Should we be counting on him to pitch well from the get-go upon his callup?

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

          “What do you mean? All of the things that converged to give us the surprise of a season that was 2013? I really need to rehash all of the things that went right for 2013 to happen as it did?”

          Yes. If you’re going to make a claim like that, back it up with actual facts.

          Overall it sounds exactly like what some people were saying last year — that they’re concerned with the rotation. I wasn’t. I was fine with the pitching staff last year, and as a result, they met my expectations.

          So basically what you’re saying is that you didn’t think the pitching staff would perform well in 2013, then they performed well. So it’s either a case where your expectations were wrong, or you were right and the results were wrong. Why are we assuming your expectations were the thing that was right? Is it really for reasons like “Liriano hasn’t had back to back good years”? Are you really concerned about Liriano next year?

          • Buccoguy1979

            Overall I agree with the point – on paper it certainly appears the 2014 OD roster is better than the 2013 OD roster.

            But, I think this statement is a use of poor logic: “So it’s either a case where your expectations were wrong, or you were right and the results were wrong. Why are we assuming your expectations were the thing that was right?”

            For example, during blackjack, if you hit on 18 you expect to bust. But if you hit on 18 frequently enough, eventually you’ll draw a 3 and win. As it relates to baseball, relying on aging vets and younger bounceback guys to come through doesn’t work too often. It worked last year. It doesn’t mean his expectations were wrong. It means 2013 went against the norms of baseball performance. That isn’t to say it won’t work again in 2014 as it is quite possible that NH and Co counted cards and know that there are a lot of 3s left out there.

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

              “For example, during blackjack”

              It would be so easy to use an actual baseball example. Why the need to go to the Harlem Globetrotters or a hand of blackjack to explain an expectation of how a baseball player will perform?

              Anyway, I think you’re talking about evaluating process and results, not expectations. And I don’t think you can equate the 2013 Pirates with hitting on 18 in Blackjack.

              • Buccoguy1979

                Why did I use blackjack? Because using a baseball example is too easy. Do you want me to list all the vets and bounceback candidates that have failed? The rate of success of such players is very low. I’m pretty sure you agree with me. Bounceback candidates and aging vets rarely work. Do you disagree?

                I’m 100% talking about expectations. When I see a guy shoot from half court or hit on 18, I expect failure. I might also consider process in my overall evaluation (that is, maybe this guy practices shooting from half court, maybe this guy counts cards), but my expectation is failure.

                I’m not equating the 2013 Pirates with blackjack. I’m equating how frequently a bounceback or aging vet exceeds expectations with how frequently someone hitting on 18 gets to 21. Expectations of both are low. But sometimes it works out.

                So, babeadams4HOF had expectations that were in line with typical baseball performance. The bounceback guys/vets on the 2013 Pirates exceeded his expectations.

            • Andrew

              Full bore gambler’s fallacy.

          • babeadamsforthehall

            Last year I was certainly way off in my expectations for the starters. However, when you predicate your conclusions as being “well, everyone said the starters would stink last year and they didn’t, therefore this year won’t as well”…it’s not exactly the best way to support your ideas. Especially when you could go to most of the past 20 years and say that people thought that the starters would stink…and were shown to be correct.

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

              “it’s not exactly the best way to support your ideas”

              I’m not supporting my ideas with that. I’m just pointing out that your argument — the Pirates had unexpected production — is entirely based on your pre-season expectations. And those expectations aren’t shared by everyone and aren’t necessarily correct.

              • babeadamsforthehall

                They ceratinly weren’t last year, at least in regards to Liriano and Morton. I whiffed on them big time and give NH lots of credit.

                The difficult part, however, comes in sustaining what I thought was somewhat surprising production. You seem quite certain that they will have no trouble doing this. I am not saying that they won’t, but rather that counting on them, as just one example, to be sure things might be asking a bit much. Especially when that particular net to players like Grilli and Melancon and Tabata, and you assume that Marte will continue to get better (and not be the windmill he looked like to end the season and in the playoffs) and Taillon and Polanco will both contribute from the get go.

                That’s a lot to assume.

                • Cato the Elder

                  It assumes just as much to that they will all be worse. Plus, the arguement was NOT that they will all play as well or better next year. It was:

                  “Try to avoid Doomsday predictions where everyone who had a good year can’t possibly repeat, everyone who had a normal year will get worse, and everyone who had a bad year will stay the same. Every year some players outperform, some underperform, and some perform to expectations. If your scenario is ‘What if (list of everything going wrong)?’ then you don’t have a realistic scenario.”

                  In other words, the argument assumes a normal distribution – some better, some the same, some worse. It is you who are assuming that everything went right last year, and if I understand you correctly, therefore the reasonable expectation is that the reasonable assumption is that everything will look worse by comparison. But, THAT is a lot to assume. Everything didn’t go right last year: the rotation suffered a significant amount of injuries (Liriano, Cole and Morton all missed significant time for one reason or an other), the bulk of the 1st base platoon was below average, and right field was a black hole for most of the season (I know Tabata was reasonably good for 300 AB, but the bulk of that production came when he was replacing Marte). At minimum, those things didn’t go right and one might assume some positive regression here to mitigate some negative regression elsewhere.

                  The fact is that the “surprising production” of last year already has you bias baked into it. That is to say, that if we take out the expectation you had coming into last year and just look at the production, and then decide how likely it is to be repeated, it seems reasonable to conclude that last year wasn’t a total fluke – there is some underlying talent on this team – and while there is certainly a chance that they may take some steps back in some areas, there is a reasonably good chance that they will improve in others. E.g. would you be shocked if Neil Walker had a better year this year than last? Is a full season of Mercer starting at SS an upgrade? How bad will Snider/RF have to be in order to not improve some? You think Pedro might grow after last seasons success?

                  I think it is unrealistic to expect Liriano to be as dominant this year as he was last, but he can take a step back and still be quite good. Same goes for the bullpen. The thing with a 94 win team is you no longer have to improve to be a good team – you are already there – you just have to maintain your performance. If you take a step back in one spot, you hope to take a step forward in an other. And with the wave of talented prospects getting ready to matriculate to the big leagues, many of the Pirates steps forward are structurally built in, throw in a couple of upgrades (e.g. 1st base) and you can sustain some expected negative regression without falling off a cliff.

                  • babeadamsforthehall

                    Incorrect. If pretty much everything went right last year, my point is that COUNTING on that to happen again is a bit much. For the 2014 version, as currently constituted, to be a contender (and thus, as the original article states “better than the 2013 team”, everything will need to break right again. Some things will. Some things won’t. If some things don’t, this team doesn’t make the playoffs. My hope for this off season continues to be seeing moves that will make it so that even in the event that everything doesn’t break exactly right, that this team still has a chance to make it to the post season. Thus far we are not at that point, and that is disappointing.

                    • TonyC17

                      Babeadams, do you read what you are writing? You are saying everything has to go exactly the same for the pirates to make the playoffs. I don’t. I don’t want to see 11 starters in the first few months. Id rather see full season of liriano, Morton and cole. Even if they regress a little, they will still be good.

                      Right field was a black hole. Most ppl expect it to be better than how bad it was last year. Same with first base. Jones was terrible. Even if they give Lambo a chance he can’t be worse. Plus with polanco coming up, he may not play great but he will struggle to be worse than what we showed.

                    • Cato the Elder

                      You are just asserting that “pretty much everything went right last year.” I think that is demonstrably false.

          • jaygray007

            Apparently the Pirates are the only team that would be screwed if the whole rotation was suddenly bad!

            Let’s play that game!

            Adam Wainright just had tommy john a few years ago. what if he gets injured again?

            What if Michael Wacha’s performance was just a few month long fluke!?

            Same with Shelby Miller? he’s unproven!

            lance lynn can’t get lefties out!

            Jaime Garcia might not return to form!

            While obnoxious, we could play the ??? game with any team in the major leagues.

          • Y2JGQ2

            Tim- comeon, You plus a crystal ball is the only way you could have forseen we’d have brandon cumpton pitching well last year when injuries struck, that Russell Martin would throw out 40+% of runners, that Cutch would win MVP, that Marte would be a 4+ WAR player in his first season, that Locke would be an All-star pitcher in the first half, that Morton would be an all-star pitcher in the second half, that Mercer would hit as well as he did coming up to replace garbage hitting Barmes. The only real underperformance of the year was Wandy and Karstens injuries and the awful year from Jones. Everyone else either performed as expected or way overperformed. Especially the bullpen. ALthough you might have thought they’d do well, well is 8-10 out of 30 teams, not top 3. You do not have the arrogance to tell any of us that you predicted they’d overperform that much, I read every article you wrote last year and yes you had optimism they’d be decent or even good, but not what we actually got.

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

              Could I have predicted the exact moves? Absolutely not.

              Could I have predicted that the Pirates had a lot of talent in their system and guys who could step up from the minors to take starting roles or fill depth needs? Yes.

              I’m not saying I predicted exact moves. Some of the moves above I actually did predict. But things like “you didn’t see Brandon Cumpton coming up to pitch”…who could? That said, I did think they had plenty of good pitching in the upper levels. If I would have been making a guess last year, I would have been guessing another name from the group. Either way, the result is the same.

              • Y2JGQ2

                Very political response Tim. Without all the pieces overperforming like i specifically mentioned, the team wouldn’t have been very good. A lot of those players played beyond their talent level, at least from a historic perspective

                • Cato the Elder

                  I’ll speak to your “overperforming pieces.” Who says it was overproduction? Martin was always a very good defensive catcher – so he had a good year; so what, %40 cs compared to a career of %31 cs, again I say so what. Cutch could have won the MVP the previous year if the team hadn’t collapsed. In fact his AVG, SLG, HR, RBI and runs all went down last year. If you’ve been around here long enough, you’ll know that Tim has always said Marte had all-star potential, he certainly played well, but it was not a huge surprise here. Over the course of the season Locke was roughly a league average pitcher, perfectly suitable for a 5th starter role. And in fact, while he was pitching over his head, it was pointed out repeatedly on this site the this level of success wouldn’t last. To a bunch of boos and hisses I might add. Morton pitched well, but you are building him up just to knock him down. He pitched just about as well as one might have expected of him, but he wasn’t an all-star.

          • Buccoguy1979

            I think you are applying some flawed logic to the following statement: “So it’s either a case where your expectations were wrong, or you were right and the results were wrong. Why are we assuming your expectations were the thing that was right?”

            A hook shot from half court is a terrible shot. My expectation when I see a guy taking a hook shot from half court is that it will miss. But the Harlem Globetrotters have one guy on the team who practices that shot for several minutes a day. So, he improves his odds of making it. Still a bad shot to take and my expectation when I see him take it is that it is still a long shot to go in. That’s how I feel about relying on aging vets and bounceback guys. My expectation is low. It doesn’t mean it won’t work, but it also doesn’t mean my expectations are flawed. Maybe NH and Co are like the Trotter who practices the hook shot from half court and the Bucs are better at identifying bounceback guys and aging vets that will work. Maybe, therefore, 2014 will be more of the same. But I think BabeAdams4HOF expectations in a general sense are correct and the results in 2013 of those vets & bounce back guys bucked the odds.

            • stickyweb

              Aging vets like Byrd, AJ, and Jones? I don’t see any other aging vets from last year or being counted on to start this year. You have a point about bounce back guys, but they’ve done it before, so they can do it again and the Bucs have a good track record with a lot of them.

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

              What you’re basically saying is that you believe in your expectations. That has nothing to do with an objective, outside view that your expectations are wrong.

              For example: take someone who doesn’t trust prospects and get their expectation for Gregory Polanco. It’s probably going to be low. Now if Polanco comes up and lives up to his potential right away, he would exceed that person’s expectations.

              If this person believes what BabeAdams believes — that exceeding personal expectations is just luck — then they would take the view that Polanco can’t be as good the following year. But that would just be a case where the person isn’t accepting that their expectations were wrong.

          • stickyweb

            Y2J, you’re focusing a lot on pitching and that makes sense, since the Bucs won with pitching last year. There is also defense and hitting to consider. You state “The only real underperformance of the year was Wandy and Karstens injuries and the awful year from Jones. Everyone else either performed as expected or way overperformed.” I’d say half of RF (the half Tabata didn’t play) underperformed greatly. And the only player to “way overperform” was Liriano (and probably AJ, but why does everyone think he automatically puts up the same #s at 37 and Frankie can’t at 30? Fact is AJ almost certainly regresses in 2014 too).

            Look at the hitters. Cutch went down 40 points in OPS from 2012 and do you really think .784 OPS is the ceiling for Marte, .769 for Pedro, or .757 for Walker, and .704 for Martin? I don’t, because they’re all just reaching their prime (except Martin), and oh yeah, they’ve all done better in the past (except Marte obviously). The Bucs could be a better hitting team in 2014 even getting the same crap production from RF and 1B.

            • Y2JGQ2

              Tabata didn’t underperform- he did exactly what we expected- ie not much. Cutch won the MVP and performed less than he did the year before, but i don’t think anyone was realistically expecting him to match what he did in 2012. That wasn’t underperforming.

              —and i don’t think that AJ will perform exactly the same, but no matter what numbers you use, assuming AJ doesn’t go out and pitch left handed, hes better than Volquez. In fact, you might be better than Volquez. Martin overperformed overall, he hit what was expected of him. Pedro did what was expected, as did Walker, and Marte as a first year starter was excellent.

              –The idea that the same players will just play better is folly, except in the case of the very young players. Pedro and walker have established themselves as between .750 and .800 OPS hitters, and Martin between .700 and .750. Those are 100% in line with expectations within an acceptable standard deviation

          • http://www.facebook.com/chrishale525 Chris Hale

            Anyone who says they weren’t concerned with last years rotation before the season is a flat out liar. O.K Burnett you could say you were comfortable with but he was due to drop off a little and he did. Wandy was listed as our #2 and he is no where near a #2 ,solid 3 or 4 maybe. JMac was our #3 and after the 2nd half of 2012 there were MAJOR concerns. Jeff Locke was our #4 and no one can say they weren’t concerned with him. Jeff Locke is a true #5 starter or long man. His command and stuff isn’t good enough to be anything near what his 1st half numbers were. And J Sanchez was our #5. Do I really need to say anything? We had Liriano on the way but No one could have guessed he would be that good. Look at his numbers before last year, despite his upside, No one knew for sure when Cole would be up and we weren’t sure when we’d get the inconsistent Morton back. Before last year if you stacked the Pirates projected rotation up against the Cards or Reds any true realistic Pirate fan would have had concerns

      • https://www.facebook.com/hugo.vanelten Hugo van Elten

        Hey Tim, Maybe it might be that i am from Europe, so i might not know all the sabermatics, Wars and Rars.
        I am just using the Dutch sober view on these offseason moves and how on earth can u say that the 2014 are better then the 2013 version when there is no upgrade on any position that was in desperate need of .
        Seriously we got a Pitcher that in no-way showed any improvements at all and only has been a downward fall from 2008. The Masterpieces of Searage were at least pitchers that OR came from the AL or have shown that they could rebound before
        The we aquired a catcher from the yankees that in no way can be seen as a improvement on what we had.. And by saying Tony would get more playing time in AAA is on every position logic, but on catcher you get plenty of playing time..
        Finally we re-aquired the SS that has brought frustration to everybody, the sore hole in the line-up..
        So basically we sure havent improved at all and compared to what we got and lost its been worse..

        made this nice poster for the 2014 pirates and my apologies for forgetting the “C” in Screwing….
        https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=795542800471245&set=a.393970763961786.116812.100000465975758&type=1&theater

        But then again, i am just Dutch

      • https://www.facebook.com/nate.james.125 Nate James

        Tim, I seriously love to read your thoughts on the pirates because just like I have been the token pirate fan always saying they are going to be great! You always seem to write articles to keep my optimism going. Keep it up and I couldn’t agree more with the article. I think they paid a little more for volquez but it is what it is. People want us to spend money but there seriously are no free agents to do that with. I know Neal will end up making smart moves and keep building our farm system. Go bucs!

      • https://www.facebook.com/nate.james.125 Nate James

        Tim, I love your work and it always keeps my head up as a pirate fan! I am the token pirate fan in my group of friends and it’s great to see that we do have optimism in out fanbase. A lot of people want to keep nagging on the pirate originization, but I see them building something that will keep us in the hunt year in and year out!

    • a_mshaffer

      what is going on with J Morneau? why isn’t he in the talks? Did I miss a transaction?
      thanks
      Mike

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

        He signed with Colorado.

    • connolly21

      Nutting and his puppets strike again .IF THIS TEAM STARTS SLOW AND weSEE nuttig AND HIS PUPPET DO nuttig the WE will know its Nuttig more than a lining of his pockets AGAIN

      • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 leefoo

        If you say so….

      • buster09

        Did you take a left turn at the Post Gazzette when you should have taken a right ?

  • https://www.facebook.com/patrick.ferrell.524 Patrick Ferrell

    Good write up, Tim. I feel pretty good about where we are heading so far. I like the Volquez signing. I think if Ray Searage can work with him and refine his stuff then he may end up being a very serviceable 4 or 5 starter. Also is good to keep Barmes for another year. Yeah, his hitting is terrible but with our pitching staff so dependent on ground balls we need a good glove at SS. He should be nothing more than a spot starter and late game defensive replacement. And I am sure that is how we will use him. But I have to admit I am still concerned with first base. Am hoping we get Loney – at a reasonable price, of course.

  • Roberrto21

    An excellent analysis as always Tim – the site is the best source of Pirates information on the Net, much appreciated here in Australia by someone who has been following the team since 1960! It is a bit ridiculous to criticise the team at this point and say they are “worse” than last year when it’s December, not one pitch has been thrown in spring training yet!!! They might very well have AJ back, no one really knows at this point (maybe not even AJ!!!). Who knows how Volquez will perform, he may not pitch as well as Liriano did last year but my recollection is that Francisco had a season for the ages against lefthanded hitters. What we do know is that Volquez has stuff, that Searage and the rest of the Pirates staff have a proven track record of improving pitcher performance, and that the formula of strong D, 2 seam fast balls with command, & high ground ball rates is a formula that has a good chance of producing success. I wouldn’t be surprised to see some regression in W-L, that often happens when a team makes a big leap from one year to the next (2012 – 79, 2013 – 94, 2014 (somewhere in between??). Does anyone out there seriously think they should have signed Ellsbury, McCann, Cano, Beltran or Peralta? Or even Marlon for 2 years? Why on earth would you block Polanco? And why not give Tabata/Lambo/Snider/Decker April and May to see if they are legit? They competed with poor production from RF last year – who’s to say they won’t be better? Lastly, I will take bets with anyone that Cutch and Starling will be solid to excellent next year, I’d take Andrew with his talent and personality over any other position player in the game and Starling looks like a young Roberto in the field. Who knows how the season will turn out, but I bet there are a lot of teams that would like to have Russ, Pedro, Neal, Andrew, Marte, Polanco (even 1/2 year), Cole, Liriano, Morton, Grilli, Wilson, Watson, Melancon etc. with a possible infusion of Taillon. The picture here is so much brighter than going into 2011 (didn’t they lose 105 in 2010???)!!! We should all be happy rather than carping about what they “didn’t do” so far. I would not take Cano for 24 per in the out years oi his contract!!! Let’s just hope for a great year in 14!!!

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

      Thanks for reading! Australia is one of my favorite places. Glad the site has at least one reader there.

      • http://www.facebook.com/adrian.carnelutti Adrian Carnelutti

        2 readers Tim, this and Bucs dugout are my 2 favourite sites and really help to keep up with all the Pirates news. Just waiting for the online edition of the prospects guide. Keep up the good work

        • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 leefoo

          Adrian,

          I’d add the PBC Asylum to that list.

          All 3 are favorites of mine.

          Foo

  • Dave

    Love the site, Tim. I’ve been reading it since 2011. Always my first stop to get my Pirates fix. Quick question, if Loney ends up signing with Milwaukee or Tampa, who would you want as the big half of the platoon at first? I’m honestly not sold on any of the other available options and might prefer giving Lambo a shot if he can at least field the position better than Jones could…

  • fekknbuccofan

    Totally agree Roberto, I know Garrett Jones had a bad year last year, but in his time here he provided pretty good bang for the bucks we were paying him. If he had not gotten the opportunity when he did we wouldn’t have gotten the production we did and he was very serviceable, that is why I think you have to give Dacker, Lambo, Snider, or Tabata a chance, you never know. Plus guys figure it out, aka Brandon Moss, If one of these guys show flashes and real promise. You have gained a real trade chip once Polanco is ready, and you can strengthen your team in other areas.

    • Y2JGQ2

      Again, my worry is that we get a replacement at 1st base< Garrett Jones' average yearly production. For what he signed for we should have kept him in my opinion

  • emjayinTN

    Tim: Agree wholeheartedly with the analysis and the sound reasoning behind the conclusion. A few issues – RF was not “horrible” overall. No, I did not like the production of Jones or Snider in RF, but Jose Tabata easily had his best year in the majors – 300 AB’s, 17 doubles, 5 triples, 6 HR’s, 33 RBI, a slash line of .282/.342/.429/.771. There are many teams in baseball who would love to have production like that from any of their OF, let alone the least talented of the starting OF. A 1.2 WAR is worth between $6.5 and $7.0 mil, so I think he did very well for the Bucs, and I am surprised the Pirates did not dangle him to some teams who need OF and have things that we need. The other problem I see is that Liriano and Morton have both had difficulty validating a good season by backing it up by providing a similar or better season the following year. The last comment is that I fully agree that Taillon and Polanco are the next two up in 2014, but the next in line, IMO, is going to be Nick Kingham, who may join the Pirates after the trading deadline or at least in September. He pitched very well at AA last year at Hi A – 6-3, 3.09 in 13 starts 75K/14W, .194 Avg Ag; went to AA where he was 3-3, 2.70 in 12 Starts, 69K/30W and a .220 Avg Ag. So, I was looking for him to start the year in the Rotation at AAA, but signing SP’s like Volquez may impede the upward mobility of guys at AA/AAA. You do not want to rush kids to the majors, but it is even worse if they get overcooked in the minors. It is nice having 10 possible SP’s, but this is not 2008 where the whole MLB Rotation was made up of #3, #4, and #5 SP’s. That signing of Volquez will impact guys like Locke, Cumpton, and Kingham and sends a message of “no-confidence”. That one left me scratching my head.

    • Cato the Elder

      If signing Volquez is a “vote of no-confidence,” then not scrambling to sign AJ has to be a “vote of confidence,” if we are being fair. I mean, if Volquez stinks, it is a lot easier to bite the bullet and eat $5 mil by turning to a young arm in the minors than it would be with AJ at $14.1 mil.

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

      I’ve noted Tabata’s strong finish to the season. I think right field would have been much better last year if he did that from day one and stayed healthy.

      As for Kingham, he could be up in September, but it might be hard for him to be a starter since they will have a lot of options.

      “That signing of Volquez will impact guys like Locke, Cumpton, and Kingham and sends a message of “no-confidence”. That one left me scratching my head.”

      They’ve established a trend over the last few years that they care a lot about depth. Signing Volquez doesn’t mean Locke and Cumpton won’t pitch in the majors. It just means they won’t start the season in the majors.

      • Y2JGQ2

        Locke has more positive starts in half of a season than Volquez has in the last 3 years. That might not actually be true, but man it certainly seems like it is…..I just don’t understand it.

        • buster09

          How would you understand it when you have 25 % of the information NH,Searage & the scouting department have at their disposal ?

      • emjayinTN

        Tim: Since playing at the major league level is the ultimate goal, not being able to do so because we wanted to sign a journeyman for $5 mil who could possibly be a #4 or #5 bounce-back candidate is troubling and cannot be taken by Locke and/or Cumpton as anything but a vote of no-confidence.

        Kato: I am not so sure that AJ is not coming back, and if they could have scrambled and gotten AJ, it would not have made any difference. If AJ comes back, Francisco Liriano is going to the Yankees before the season starts. If he does not come back, Liriano will start the year in Pittsburgh. Either way, I do not think it would have impacted the bottom of the Rotation. In 2 years Burnett is a total of a 7 WAR or a value of about $38.5 mil and the Pirates only had to give $16 mil. I hope they make an offer of at least the $16 mil he has made the last few years – I know it will not be the deciding factor for AJ, but I think the respect factor means something to AJ.

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

          I’ve talked to players after these types of decisions. They might be disappointed, but they also know that the team still values them. As an example, last year the Pirates left several players in Altoona (Curry, Lambo, Santos, Cumpton, to name a few) because of depth needs in Triple-A. All of those players knew they still had a shot to move up, and might even have a shot at the majors.

          I don’t think any team views their rotation in the limitations of “who will the five guys be on Opening Day?” Locke and Cumpton might not make the Opening Day rotation, but they’re being counted on as depth options to almost certainly start in the majors this year. They would know this, so it would be impossible to feel that the team had no confidence in them.

  • jaygray007

    While they should definitely add either burnett (and one of the cheap 1b trade targets) or loney (and go with the current SP crew), the team is definitely still in a great position at about as good as last year.

    It’s funny. people clammor for “a name” to be brought in. on The Fan yesterday i lol’d because a guy wanted a left handed RF to be brought in. when asked for an example, he said “i’m out here driving! i don’t have a laptop i can pull out of my ass!” which is fair, and maybe he really couldve found someone he liked on the internet, but it really highlights the casual fan/angry hardcore fan’s strategies for improvement.

    BRING IN A “NAME” AND IF YOU DON’T THEN ALL FAILS.

    PS. Note: Gaby Sanchez had a better overall statline than Jones, even ignoring the splits. (obviously he’d be eaten alive with a full plate of righties). Even if the casual fan/ angry hardcore fan just looked at the overall statlines, you should be able to say “2014 beats 2013 there” before the bucs even bring in the lefty platoon partner (and they must add the platoon partner, or at least have Lambo on a relatively short leash and acquire one in the season!). Although something must be said for the possibility of a Garrett Jones bounceback.

    PSS. another note: Ike davis has a career OPS of .827 vs righties. Not concluding he’s better than Loney or anything. Just a fun fact. If they brought back Burnett and didnt have the funds for Loney, i’d be alright with a Davis addition. While he isn’t the defender that Loney is, he has the higher offensive upside to make up for it. Just much less ‘safe’.

    • jaygray007

      The Pirates are basically gonna have to be the island of misfit toys when it comes to FA (minus when they’re desperate a position a la Russ Martin). It’s time everybody pretty much accepts that. It’s not worth getting angry about because it’s clear that this is how it’s going to be. And honestly, I wouldn’t have it any other way. It adds to their charm, if you ask me haha.

      How can you not enjoy the things like “a-rod makes more than the whole pitching staff” (i’m not sure if that’s actually true. just illustrating the types of stats i’m talking about) but then looking at the standings and seeing the pirates above the yankees and the other inefficient teams?

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

      Davis is good. The only problem is that they seem to be asking a lot in return for him. I don’t know if the trade cost is worth what he provides compared to what other options could provide.

      • jaygray007

        Hopefully the Buccos would pay a fair price. The rumored names according to this article (http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/the-market-value-of-post-hype-first-basemen/ ) are Mike Fiers and Tyler Thornburg.

        Not sure what their Pirates equivalents would be or if it was the Mets or Brewers who declined said deals, so i dunno if he’d be more or less ‘expensive’ than Fiers and Thornburg.

        I guess the equivalent is probably Locke. maybe? i’d have to think a while about it, but i don’t think i’d totally hate that move (if the Pirates missed out on or didn’t have the funds for Loney). Projections on fangraphs like Davis better WAR-wise, but locke has more team control. i dunno, guys. i’m confused and i should be doing work right now.

  • CalipariFan506

    The thing that makes me shake my head is that people think the Pirates should have signed Jhonny Peralta. St. Louis makes few mistakes but that will be an expensive one.

    • jaygray007

      Even if that contract makes the 2016 cardinals a little worse, it still has a good chance to return a good bit of value before he ages too much. It makes them a formidible opponent in at least 2014 and 2015. Let’s hope a 500k alen hanson is a worthy adversary at SS starting in 2015!

      • http://www.reverbnation.com/johnrussellskinner johnrussellskinner

        I always find the ex-PED users to be a little suspect. I wonder how he performs without them.

    • https://www.facebook.com/scott.skink Scott Skink

      No idea why you think that. At an AAV of $13.25 mill, Peralta only needs a little over 2.0 WAR each year to outperform his contract, which he should be able to do rather easily. He’s averaged 3.67 WAR over the last three seasons, even while missing 50 games due to his suspension. In 2013 Kozma was exactly replacement level, at 0.

      Additionally, Peralta provides the Cards with an antidote to the Bucs’ LHP kryptonite. The Cards can afford it – the contract should pay off in 3 years and Peralta should still have some value left in year 4 as a bat-first utility backup if the Cards want to move him.

  • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 leefoo

    It’s ‘good’ to see ‘Babe’ and his “I’ll argue with you over anything” personna back.

    Foo

    • buster09

      You might think so Lee,but the constant arrogance of the ” I know more than you all ” along with the over bearing negativity starts to get old pretty quickly.

      • Pie Rat

        Looks like buster09 didn’t take his meds again today.

        • buster09

          And your problem with that comment was what ?

    • babeadamsforthehall

      Foo…sorry if I don’t break out the pom poms every time someone in the Pirate FO has a bowel movement like so many on this site, including its owner. I will freely admit and be very happy about things that i feel the management does well. I honestly feel that NH and his group did pretty much nothing wrong last year. Things that I agreed with, things that i did not….everything worked. Does that mean that I give him a pass for crying poverty then turning around and wasting $8 mil on chuds like Volquez/Barmesss/Stewart? It does not.

      But I will freely admit when I am shown to be wrong, and there was quite a lot that I was wrong about last year.

      • buster09

        You don’t have to wait very long to prove what a jerk you are do you ?

        • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 leefoo

          Buster….sorry…I forgot to insert the sarcasm comment.

          I agree with everything you said.

        • babeadamsforthehall

          Generally not.

      • stickyweb

        Babe, I don’t think anyone here celebrates the bowel movements of the front office. I rarely even celebrate my own. If you can show me one pom pom for any of the Volquez/Barmes/Stewart deals, I’ll concede your point. The only sides of those deals are yours (a total waste) and the rest of ours (necessary depth). We are not doing cart wheels over anything the FO has done this year. In your comment above, you finally ackowledge they did a lot of things right last year (I disagree it was everything, see Sanchez, Inge, McDonald) and that you got most of the things wrong. Maybe that’s why we side with the FO in these discussions. Sure a regression to the mean is possible for both you and the FO, but I’ll go with the guys that have done it in the past, especially the recent past.

        Simply stating they are a worse team now than on the last day of the season, without taking into account the increased contributions of last year’s part timers, is flawed. Thinking the current team is what will start next season is probably just as flawed, though I’m fine with Tabby/Snider in RF and Lambo/Gaby at 1B. I’d love AJ to play another year, but if he doesn’t want to, that’s his perogative. I’m ecstatic with Frankie, Cole and Morton as 1-3, think Locke can contirbute as a solid #4 again and see a ton of options(Cumpton, Pimentel, Irwin) for #5 if Wandy doesn’t work out. And who knows, maybe Wandy’s having a good off season.

        I would be shocked if the Bucs offense isn’t better next year than in 2013, whether they add a 1B or not, and I fully expect them to add one, though I won’t jump off any roofs if they don’t.

  • Y2JGQ2

    Tim- I always love that you share your opinion, but sadly, you are wrong. The 2013 Pirates are not the team at the beginning of the year, they are the team at the end of the year. Go back and tell me who was on the 86 red sox, do you tell me the opening day lineup, or the team at the end of the year. Thus far, this team IS inferior to the 2013 team, but of course the offseason isn’t done. As of right now, if we go on the field with what we have right now, we are worse at the beginning of 2014 than we were at the end of 2013. There is nothing you can say which would change this.

    • CalipariFan506

      Then let’s just wait until September 1 2014 to decide which team is truly better. If you’re going to count losses of Byrd and Morneau it’s only fair to wait to see what happens.

      I also think the Reds are significantly worse in 2014 than 2013. Arroyo is leaving without any real replacement, unless you count young Cingrani. Then after him there is absolutely nothing. Choo leaving will hurt even more.

      • Buccoguy1979

        No question CalipariFan506 that the Reds will have a couple of gaping holes. Looks like they will rely on Billy Hamilton in CF the way the Bucs are going to rely on in house guys in RF (although the Bucs in house guys have quite a bit more MLB experience) until GP is ready. In addition to Cingrani, the Reds added Holmberg in a trade this off-season. He doesn’t have the pedigree of Cole or Jamo and will likely start the year in AAA. But he’ll be a part of their rotation in the near future, IMHO.

    • Kevin_Young

      Just because you have a strangely flawed view of the ’86 Red Sox doesn’t mean that’s right. So Melky Cabrera was not on the 2012 Giants, and we didn’t actually have Ian Snell in 2009 (thank Jesus)? If you do all of your roster judgement at the end of the year then don’t judge the 2014 team now.

      • Y2JGQ2

        Kevin- why are you arguing? My view isn’t flawed. NOONE remembers the opening roster from any team. OF course it matters who was on the team most of the year, my point is that Tim’s use of the beginning year roster is just as flawed as using the end of year roster. I would say right now that there is no doubt that this team right now is weaker than the team just PRIOR to the trade dealine last year, is that better? I always looked at Byrd and Morneau as rentals anyways, mercenaries more than anything else.

        P.S. Melky Cabrera wasn’t on the 2012 Giants, his HGH was. He wasn’t ever actually present on that team and that’s backed up by his ridiculously inflated one year numbers.

        I’m not the one judging the team now either, I’ll judge it after the moves are made and see what we have. Look at it like a line chart. Are we weaker than July 2013? Yes, are we weaker than October 2013 Yes, are we weaker than April 2013…..maybe maybe not

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

          “my point is that Tim’s use of the beginning year roster is just as flawed as using the end of year roster”

          I’m not using the beginning of the year roster. I’m looking at the entire year. That’s why I talk about Gregory Polanco coming up in June or July.

          • Kevin_Young

            Exactly! You look at and project the whole year. You don’t just take the team at this very present moment and pick random days during last year to compare to. You analyze and forecast it.

            To say that “right now that there is no doubt that this team right now is weaker than the team just PRIOR to the trade dealine last year” flies in the face of Tim’s entire point in his article.

    • buster09

      ” Tim- I always love that you share your opinion, but sadly, you are wrong. ” This is the attitude I just LOVE ! It isn’t even within the realm of possibility that Y2could be wrong. Oh noooo. it has to be Tim …or anyone else that doesn’t agree with his view. Hilarious actually.

  • lvanderwarker

    Tim, I haven’t heard this mentioned anywhere, but do you think we could see AJ positioning himself to make a later than normal appearance to the season ala Roger Clemens, Roy Oswalt, et al? Would seem to make sense given his indecisiveness to this point.

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

      That’s definitely possible, and something I’ve seen mentioned at different places. Would solve a lot of things. More time for Burnett with family, less cost for the Pirates, gives them depth in the second half if needed.

  • tbart213

    You barely even allude to Pedro’s advacnement. Seems to me that we can expect a little bump there as well. I also think we can gain from selectively sitting Walker and Alvarez against select LHP’s.

    Another area we could get a bump is from bunting less…..wait…nevermind…no sense in ruining anyone’s holidays.

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

      That was implied in the “everyone else” section. I didn’t want to name specific names, because you don’t know which players will improve, which will meet expectations, and which will decline.

  • BuccosFanStuckinMD

    I realize its a slow news day – the Winter Meetings are now over and the Pirates did not do much this past week.

    However, with all that being said, its a little premature to be making any overall assessment of how the 2014 team shapes up, compared to last year. First of all, we do not know what the final outcome of the Burnett situation will be yet. Secondly, we don’t know what additional moves the Pirates may or may not make – especially regarding RF and first base.

    Now, if you want to compare the current roster with the team that ended its season in the NL playoffs, I would say we are weaker as of right now. We lost Byrd and Burnett. We did not add anything of significance to offset those two losses.

    Plus, next year we don’t know what we are going to get from:

    (1) Morton – Was 2013 a fluke or sign of things to come in 2014?
    (2) Gomez – Was a big surprise last year – can he repeat that?
    (3) Walker – Will he rebound from a pretty poor season at the plate?
    (4) Marte – Will he put it all together and have a huge year in 2014?
    (5) Rodriguez – Major question mark, after a lost 2013 season.
    (6) RF and First Base
    (7) Will Grilli be the same in 2014 as he was pre-injury 2013?

    I could make the list longer, but the above is just a sampling. I am fine, going into Spring, with a Sanchez/Lambo platoon at first base. I am very concerned about RF, unless Polanco proves ready in 2014. I do not have great confidence in Snider, and Decker is a complete unknown – who could not break into a weak SD outfield last year. Tabata – He still has the tools and potential. If he could put it together, that changes everything.

    My 2 cents worth!

    • jaygray007

      fair points! but you can play that game with every team’s rotation and point out a few question marks/weak spots in their lineups.

      i played the game with the cardinals above and now i’ll do the reds because they’re the next most relevant.

      Latos – will the bone spurs fire up again ? was the surgery successful? how will he come back from surgery?
      Cueto – will the oblique troubles continue? will the embarassment from literally and figuratively dropping the ball in the WC game be too much to handle (yes this one is just a joke)

      Bailey and leake are both fine

      cingrani – unproven

      losing choo and replacing him with billy hamilton? will hamilton hit enough to even use his speed? if he’s a starter, he’s not going to be the late game pinch runner weapon he was last year.

      will phillips be traded?

      Will the unproven mesoraco be able to handle taking full duties from hanigan?

      every team has many question marks. not just the pirates.

      • jaygray007

        my response is a lot douchier sounding than i intended. sorry about that…

        • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 leefoo

          jaygray….been there, douched that.

          lol

      • BuccosFanStuckinMD

        Exactly, which just helped make my point – trying to already assess the 2014 and compare it to the 2013 team, from where we sit today, is silly at best.

  • cpc

    Here’s what is missing from the story/analysis above — Grilli and Melancon didn’t just have career years, they had LIGHTS OUT career years. You cannot count on either being nearly as good. And without their prowess, Pirates are VERY hard-pressed to reach 90 wins.

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

      They probably won’t repeat those numbers, at least not Melancon (Grilli’s final line was similar to 2012).

      That said, I disagree with the idea that the Pirates need career years from their relievers to reach 90 wins.

    • Andrew

      CPC has made the best point about a reason Pirates 2013 success and why it cannot be relied upon again. In high leverage situations last year the Pirates pitchers had a .243 wOBA (.555 OPS against) the best in baseball. The next best team was the Braves .022 wOBA (convert wOBA to wins that is over a 1 win gap) points higher, league average was .306 wOBA (.706 OPS).

      • stickyweb

        Andrew, while I don’t disagree with CPC’s point and your extrapolation, I think the bigger threat to the Bucs in 2014 is injuires to position players. They were able to overcome significant injuries to the starting pitchers because of their depth, but they mostly avoided injuries to the everyday players. If I remember correctly, Marte for about a month, Walker for about a month and Snider for half the year (or 5/6 of the year, depending on your perspective) was all they sustained. If they experience anything more than that, I don’t think they have the depth to cover it. Except (ironically enough) at RF and/or 1B, where they’ve built a lot of options as a result of not settling on anyone yet.

        • Andrew

          I agree, but I do not think injury risk is anything unique to the Pirates, the Nationals might have challenged the Braves or for a wild card spot if they could have gotten 30 more games out of Bryce Harper and another 15 out of Werth. (Not to mention Ramos.)

          So again the injury risk is there for position players and is a concern but it is not unique. I place much more value on pitching depth because of the higher injury rates as compared to position players. As Billy Beane said baseball is a game of attrition of pitcher’s arms.

  • Andrew

    Thought experiment: how would individual’s opinion of the Pirates off-season to date change if Burnett would have announced in July that this was his last season, or at the beginning of November said he was not coming back? I feel the specter of Burnett has colored all analysis. Most of the signing have been uninspiring, but the expectation of the Pirates committing >$15 million per year to an individual free agent were never realistic. Thus when I have seen anyone complain it all comes back to not ensuring Burnett returns. So outside of this, what should the Pirates have done differently? (and the off-season is not over)

  • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 leefoo

    Tim, I know it is not your fault…it’s the blog system, but those single word columnar replies are awful hard to read.

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

      I’ve been trying to find a solution to that. The best option would be Disqus. However, I had to switch from that last year because it had a big flaw that allowed people to create fake accounts impersonating other commenters. I’ll be looking into a solution after I finish up with the first orders for the Prospect Guide.

      • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 leefoo

        Thx….We use Disqus on the PBCAsylum, and have had no problems with fake names.

        But, you probably know more about the inner workings than us occasional bloggers.

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

          The problem was that people changed their screen name and avatar to match another poster exactly. They didn’t even have to sign up for an account. They could just come to the site, have the screen name “leefoo”, use your avatar, and post things under your name.

          From what I’ve read, that hasn’t changed. I’d like to switch back, but I don’t have a way to test it to see if it has changed.

          It could just be that no one has tried it over there.

          • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 leefoo

            well, in MY case, ‘spoofing’ could only improve my posts.

            lol

            • buster09

              I like your attitude leefoo !

  • Bucco Boyd 1979

    Many good points, Tim, as usual. But, I do have to respectfully disagree with some or what you assert here. I think that right today, December 13, 2013, that this Pirates team as constituted is not as good, overall, as the team that walked off the field in defeat at St. Louis at the end of game five of the N.L.D.S. Your argument about the pitching heading into 2014 (with or without A.J.) I think has merit. It is the offense that I am concerned about, once again. If Neal does not get a productive first baseman and we have to go full-time with Gabby Sanchez (I don’t think that will happen, but if it does), and we go with a platoon in right field until Polanco arrives, then we will actually be worse to at least start 2014 than we were in 2013. The thought of having to scratch out runs again with an anemic offense that strikes out frequently and does not hit situationally just absolutely depresses me. This team needs more hitting, and better situational hitting, and to date, Neal has not addressed that. There is still plenty of time, but overall, I do not think that the Bucs are as good right now as they were after game five of the N.L.D.S. Keep up the good work.

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

      I think this just depends on your faith in defensive value. It’s definitely not comfortable to win with pitching and defense, but I think that last year showed it can be done. The Pirates weren’t the first team to take this approach either.

      I also think they will get a productive first baseman. There are good options out there, and only three teams that really need a first baseman.

    • piraddict

      Little adjustments with the talent available could lead to significant offensive improvements. For instance Cutch’s RBI total could be increased by having better OBP numbers in the hitters ahead of him. At leadoff against RHP if you substitute Tabata or Decker for Marte (Marte hits down in the order) you gain about 50 points in OBP. Likewise if you alternate Walker (RHP) and Mercer (LHP) you get a .350+ OBP in the 2 hole. If you have Cutch double his stolen base attempts you increase his runs scored. (Cutch and Marte have the same success rate (73%) but Marte is about twice as likely to attempt to steal.) If you give Pedro some help by putting speed ahead of him he will see more fastballs and his productivity will go up. Increasing Mercer’s AB at the expense of Barmes AB will help. Playing Herrison against every LHP for either Alvarez or Walker will help. I think Sanchez / Lambo could work out outstandingly well. The fact that so many of the Pirate’s regulars are not yet at their performance peak in their careers would leave one to rationally expect their 2014 performance to exceed 2013. No one performs in a straight line performance increase way, but in the aggregate I expect them to be better. So I agree with your basic premise that the Pirates need to improve offensively to improve as a team. But I think that there are plenty of reasons to expect that in 2014 there will be an overall improvement in team offensive performance from the same cast of characters that played in 2013.

      • stickyweb

        Agree (almost completely) addict. I love the Walker/Mercer switchout hitting 2nd depending on the pitcher’s side. I think Marte stays leading off regardless, at least until Polanco arrives. Then I want him leading off with the good OBP and Marte hitting #2, seeing all of those extra fastballs with speed on the bases ahead of him.

      • buster09

        From John Dreker’s column : “Gregory Polanco went 2-for-3 with a walk and two runs scored in his team’s 11-1 win. He reached base four times in Wednesday’s game. Polanco is hitting .331 and has reached base 80 times in 35 games. ” How would this look to you in front of McCutchen and Alvarez piraddict ?

        • piraddict

          Excellent! I am very excited about Polanco, and as soon as he demonstrates mastery of AAA pitching I hope they move him up as that will help the Pirates defensively as well. Because of his OBP and speed he is my choice for lead off. The question then is to where do you move Marte? Because of his tendency to be a free swinger, lacking the requisite patience for the top of the order I think he bats 4 or lower. Where really depends on where Alvarez bats, 4 through 6. If Alvarez brings his OBP up to warrant batting 4th then the Pirates must insist that McCutchen increase his stolen base attempts to make the pitcher focus his concentration on McCutchen and make fast ball mistakes to Alvarez. I then bat Marte 5th in front of 1b (Lambo/Sanchez is my choice). If Alvarez bats 5th or 6th then I bat Marte in front of him, even though Marte doesn’t look anything like a traditional cleanup hitter. I do it because of the benefits that I think his speed will have on Alvarez’s production. But I don’t think Alvarez’s OBP will improve that much. So here’s my prediction for the 2H2014 lineup:

          Polanco RF
          Walker 2B / Mercer SS
          Cutch CF
          Lambo / Sanchez 1B
          Marte LF
          Alvarez 3B
          Mercer SS / Walker 2B
          Martin C
          P

          With appropriate substitutions of Harrison for either Walker or Alvarez when facing LH starting pitching I think this lineup rocks! Can play with anybody!

  • TNBucs

    I couldn’t agree more, and have posted similar thoughts at other sites–we’re better now than we were on Opening Day 2013. And we have more help on the horizon with Taillon and Polanco expected to make their debuts than we did last year with Cole as the only blue chip prospect expected to make his debut.

    Two other thoughts:

    1. No doubt that we’d rather have AJ back instead of Volquez. However, in the two years prior to joining the Pirates AJ was worth 2.3 fWAR and Volquez was worth 1.5 fWAR. There may not be as big of gap as we expect (but I’m still hoping for AJ to come back).

    2. Some seem to forget that most of the time we had Byrd we didn’t have Marte, and even when we did have Marte he was far from 100%. We’ll start 2014 with a stronger OF than we had in September 2013.

    • leadoff

      We will start 2014 with a better organization than the one that started the 2013 year, that is pretty much a given. The farm was huge for the Pirates last year and should be even better this year, you win with 35-40 players in major league baseball, not 25. Hanson should be in AAA by the end of the year and Kingham should be in AAA. The Pirates don’t need to buy players, they breed them. The Pirates did not have Cole, Mercer, Sanchez, Lambo, Morton, Cumpton, Reid at the start of the 2014 season and that team still won 2014, yes the team was better at the end of 2013 than it was at the beginning, but it was better primarily because of the farm, just as it will be in 2014 when they shuffle another 3-4 players that are ready for the bigs.

      • leadoff

        CORRECTION:
        at the start of the 2014 season and that team still won 2014.
        Should have been 94 instead of 2014.

  • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 leefoo

    Actually, arguing if we’re than the 2013 Pirates RIGHT NOW is kinda meaningless, imho.
    Still a lot of offseason to go, and all kind of crap can happen. Too often we base a team on what they did and what we think they’re going to do.

    You can try to make reasonable assumptions, but in the long run, unless you’re prescient, is kinda fruitless.

    But, it IS fun and that is the whole point, right? :)

    • leadoff

      “A lot of questions to go”. Not really, this team is pretty well set and aside from a move at 1st base and an A.J. Burnett sighting, the only thing left is going to be some ST battles and maybe a little bit of depth added.

      • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 leefoo

        leadoff…I said “a lot of OFFSEASON” to go.

        I said nothing about questions. :) :) :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 leefoo

    Tim (and excuse my shouting, BUT I AM EXCITED)

    GOOD TO SEE THAT MY ALLTIME FAVORITE CHRISTMAS PRESENT (even more than that deluxe Erector Set I got as a kid) IS GOING TO ONCE AGAIN MAKE IT IN TIME TO GO UNDER MY TREE.

    AS (tiny) TIME ONCE SAID, GOD BLESS YOU ONE AND ALL (or something like that)

    Santa Foo

  • http://hiddenvigorish.com Hidden Vigorish

    As long as they get a competent 1B for the long side of the platoon I can say this steam isn’t any worse than the squad at the end of 2013. They are a little better that the team that started the the 2013. However, i think they played above their heads a bit last year. 94 wins was beyond what they realistically should have won. And I think 3 of the other 4 teams in the division have made more gains than the Bucs have. I also don’t think the Bucs will get the same shot in the arm in season that they did last year. Polanco will probably contribute at some point and Taillon likely will too. But I doubt he gives as much as Cole did. And there is no Liriano and Morton set to sure up the rotation in the middle of the year off a rehab assignment.

    • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 leefoo

      Lambo seems to be heating it up in the Dominican! He’s my choice.

    • https://profiles.google.com/113712883335661247632 unfurious

      3 of 4 teams in the division may have made the sexier moves so far but remember that it’s the ugly girl that will surprise you. PIT has focused on developing and acquiring defense, ground ball pitchers and resurrection projects because it’s the only way they can afford to win; but it’s not a fluke. Until defense is properly quantified and valued, it’s going to look like PIT is winning ugly. In reality, they are buying into a system and excelling in ways that are not easily explained or compared. I expect that teams will be spending more time this year figuring out how to beat PIT’s pitching and shifts so they may not hit 94 wins again, but I think they are still a 90 win team with the arrow pointing up. I love to fantasize about dumping money on a masher at first base and stable full of aces. But until there is a salary cap, I’m taking my ugly girl to the prom.

    • buster09

      Besides the Cardinals Hidden,which teams in that Division have made any significant improvements ? Not the Brewers or Cubs that I can see,and the Reds have more than a few problems unless they re-sign Choo. That is why they are trying to get Brett Gardner,to do that,they will have to sign another 2nd baseman so they can swap Phillips. By the way,the ownership wants Phillips out of there,no matter what !

  • Cecil.

    HV: the fact that the Bucs won’t have Liriano or Morton coming off rehab assignments is more than offset by the fact that there shouldn’t be as many injured starters in ’14 as last year. As good as the assorted depth starters were in ’13, wouldn’t we have rather had Liriano and Morton making those starts?

    Tim: would the fact that Lambo is starting to heat up make it a little easier for NH to drive a harder bargain than if he was putting up horrible numbers? (Not walk away from a deal entirely, just negotiate a little harder?)

    • http://hiddenvigorish.com Hidden Vigorish

      Not sure why you believe the Bucs won’t have as many injuries the the rotation in 2014. They went into the 2013 with two healthy bonafide workhorses in the rotation. You can’t say that about any of the pitchers currently slated for the starting rotation.

  • Cecil.

    Because they had to go so deep into their depth last year. What was it 12-13-14? How many times does a staff have to trot out that many different starters in a year because of injuries? I’m assuming you’re referring to AJ and Wandy and the workhorses? And they both broke down.

    I’m assuming they CAN’T be as unlucky with injuries as they were last year. (Although I’ll admit that the constant injuries to the Steelers offensive linemen in the last couple of years disproves that hypothesis.)

    And I’m convinced that AJ is going to come back eventually.

  • https://www.facebook.com/bruce.humbert Bruce Humbert

    Thinking of trademarking “Waiting For Polanco” and going into the T-shirt business…

    I have said my peace about how I would have preferred a bit of risk mitigation from the FO…

    And I have no clue what the signing of Michael Martinez is about – NH seems to like to throw dollars at proven .200 hitters – see Inge and McDonald not to mention Decker and Sands – must be some form of charity they believe in.

    I truly hope Tim is right – I worry about some of the things others have mentioned – and some of my own – I love Neal Walker – but he should never be allowed to bat Right Handed again – got to believe he would benefit from being a FT lefty – but that is just my opinion. He and his hitting coach can that out…

    Speaking of hitting coaches – I was tempted to post a snarky comment to the effect that OF COURSE the 2014 Bucs are better – they no longer have Jay Bell as their hitting coach.

    But it is coming time to get ready for pitchers and catchers to report – and having some great Christmas cheer while devouring the Prospect Guide.

  • http://www.acme-tv.com LongJohnSilver

    “First Pitch: The 2014 Pirates Are a Better Team Than the 2013 Pirates”

    I respectively disagree with that statement.

  • Monkshot

    I believe the constant negative “the glass is always half empty” stance is a coping mechanism fans use so that their expectations are never dashed. It’s the easiest stance to take considering the recent history of this team. If the team is good, It’s easy to say your wrong because as a fan your still making out in the end, your expectations were dashed in a positive manner. It’s a cowards stance.

  • https://www.facebook.com/nate.james.125 Nate James

    As a pirates fan who is an optimist, I could agree more with the article. This team is still young and will have some bumps this year but I see us competing. The cards are the only team in our division that has the pieces we do. The reds are in a weird holding period and the brewers are just bad. With polanco and taillon this year, I could see us around 94 wins agains.

    For those people that wanted the FO to spend money and do some crazy trades, this offseason crop of players was awful. There are no players out there that were worth such a move in my opinion. I rather hold back and extend our current crop of players, preferably Pedro!