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Pirates Rated as One of the Top 10 MLB Teams

Buster Olney has been counting down various top ten lists in the majors, and finished yesterday with his top ten MLB teams. The Pirates were rated as the tenth best team, with Olney pointing out their strong core of Andrew McCutchen, Pedro Alvarez, Starling Marte, Francisco Liriano, Gerrit Cole, and Charlie Morton. The Pirates were the fifth best NL team on the list.

The Pirates rated highly in Olney’s rankings for pitching and defense. They had the fifth best rotation, the fourth best bullpen, and the tenth best defense. The Pirates were contenders in 2013 largely due to their pitching and defense. Much of that has returned for the 2014 season.

One disclaimer to Olney’s ratings is that they come about two months before Spring Training. The off-season is still incomplete, so things can change in all of the top ten lists. That said, the Pirates are still seen as a good team, even if they haven’t made a big splash this off-season.

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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, 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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  • Matthew Dolter

    I would feel better if aj signed

    • glassers

      “That said, the Pirates are still seen as a good team, even if they haven’t made a big splash this off-season”

      I would have rathered they made a splash !

      • PiratesForever

        Me to I wish they would’ve signed AJ by now but hopefully they will soon we can still go get Nelson Cruz but I don’t know if he can preform without performance enhancing drugs. Another move I would’ve like to have seen is a move for a pitcher and not Edison Volquez because I think he is done but I wont complain if he does the same thing Papa Francisco did. Just think of the Pirates rotation in August you could see Liriano as #1 Burnett #2 if he signs Cole #3 Tallion #4 Rodriquez #5 and if Burnett don’t sign everybody will move up and either Morton or Volquez will fill in #5.

        • Nick A. Capernicus

          Stop with nelson Cruz unless u wanna trade Marte.

        • Nick A. Capernicus

          How don’t you have Morton in the rotation after the extension yet you have wandy?

  • emjayinTN

    Congratulations to the Owner and the Management Team that has provided this benefit to the City of Pittsburgh and the loyal fans who have waited so long and supported this team during their darkest hours.

  • PiratesForever

    I am not happy with their rating I think they should be rated 5th in the Majors and 3rd in the National League we are better than most of the teams in both American and the National league. When we bring up Polanco and Tallion we should be rated 2nd in the national and 3rd overall adding Polanco and Tallion will make us better than the Cardinals not saying we are not because we proved that last year by taking 4 out of 5 against them when we add Tallion and Polanco we would’ve been able to take 5 out of 5.

    • calhammer

      5th why not 1st after all we have the hitless wonder Sanchez at 1st base he should carry us until September when Pedro get his head out of his you know what (.) and stops striking out every 2.5 times to the plate!!!!!!

      • PiratesForever

        That is the reason the Pirates still need spots to fill before they can be first you look at the Dodgers they barely have anything to fill other than 2nd base the Pirates need a right fielder a first baseman (that can hit) and maybe a pitcher if anything the Pirates should go after a first baseman because Tabata is my favorite player on the Pirates and he proved he can hit in his rookie season and the most recent season besides say we got pay Nelson Cruz 12 million a year for 2 or 3 years then what are you going to do with Polanco you cant sit him or Cruz so that is why I think the Pirates should be 5th (for now) because they still have spots to fill.

        • calhammer

          What flavor is the Kool-Aid that you drink?????

      • buster09

        Brilliant comment ” calhammer “,just brilliant.

        • calhammer

          Finally, someone with half a brain!!!!!!

    • Cato the Elder

      Wait, if you are aware of Polanco (and think so highly of him), then why would you want us to sign Nelson Cruz!?

      • buster09

        Shhh Cato,don’t spoil the narrative.

    • TonyC17

      I’m sorry but take the blinders off man. Pirates are not better than the cards nor will the be when taillon and polanco get called up. We are right around where we should be

  • bench player

    Any news on Wandy

  • The Masked robshelb


    One man’s opinion, and I’m certainly not about to denigrate Mr. Olney.

    However . . .

    Maybe the real news is Fangraphs coming out at 3:15 this morning with their most-recent team WAR up–dates. They are currently painting a less-rosy picture for the home-town team. Bummer.

    Position-by-position, for the Buccos only LF (5th) and CF (2nd) stand out and excel. Overall batting ?? 11th. Overall pitching ?? 24th. Yikes !! Can this be true ?? (I guess adding Mr. Volquez so far over the off-season didn’t give a boost to those numbers.)

    Overall team WAR (I assume this means as currently stands going into the 2014 season), a less-than-rousing 20th.

    otoh, this apparently does not take into consideration the in-season arrival of guys like Polanco and JT. Nevertheless, some of these Fangraphs numbers (to me) are a wee bit disturbing . . . (Unless I’m missing something while looking at the data — which wouldn’t be unusual, alas, in my case.)

    And position-by-position, the remaining “hole”still stands out. This Fangraphs stuff ranks us 20th at 1B. Compared to, for example, 9th (in all the majors) at 3B.

    So the Olney ranking are indeed fun. Yet at the same time, the Fangraphs’ current team WAR’s should give one pause, and perhaps generate some discussion.

    • Cato the Elder

      First, it’s useless to compare AL to NL teams in that model it counts DH. Second these projections seem pretty bearish on younger players (e.g. Marte and Cole). I don’t know why a full season of Cole would project to put up nearly a full win less than last years half of a season, nor do I find it reasonable to project that 2014 Marte and Cole will combine to have less value than ’13 Marte. Finally, you mentioned it, but we are getting crushed at 1st base and RF and we all know that the current projections don’t capture the future expectations of those spots yet.

      • The Masked robshelb



        Agreed, with all your points. Good thinking on your part. otoh, Mr. Olney is also basing his rankings — I would presume — on everything working out as swimmingly well as many of us hope/anticipate it will. But who knows what speed bumps might lie ahead ?? (I sure don’t.)

        We may be the 10th best team come June or July. Or maybe not. It’s one of those best-laid-plans-of-mice-and-men thingies.

        All I’m really saying is I’d be a little happier if the Jan1 projections were a little more encouraging. It’s like getting a sack of coal from Santa on Christmas morning (or in this case on Jan 1st), and then realizing we have until Opening Day (or shortly thereafter) to squeeze all that anthracite down into some really neat mega-useful diamonds.

        Maybe we will. I sure have my fingers crossed !!


    • buster09

      I just LOVE pre-season predictions. ! Especially from a guy like Buster Olney,who also seems to think that Kendrys Morales would be a ” good fit ” in Pittsburgh. Here is a guy who wouldn’t fit anywhere in the NL,let alone the Pirates lineup,yet Olney thinks that would be a good move ?!? Morales will have a tough time getting a job anywhere if he has to put a glove on more than once a week.

    • chenzt

      How is it that our batting is so much better than our pitching in the projection? How does that make any sense at all? Mercer put up 1.4 WAR in half of a season yet SS projects only 1.8 WAR. Or that the bullpen will be a mediocre 17th in the major? Something is missing here.

    • Frank Restly

      I really don’t put too much stock in pitching WAR. The Pirates had a team pitching WAR of 13 last year and yet finished 3rd in ERA and first in OPS against. Fan Graphs projects them at a WAR of 11.4 with heavy regressions by Wilson and Watson and Volquez in place of Burnett.

      For comparison, the Colorado Rockies had a team pitching WAR of 17.4 last year. Fan Graphs projects them with a pitching WAR of 17.4 this year. And yet Colorado finished 28th in both ERA and OPS against last year.

      I am not sure why that is the case. Some of it has to do with defensive WAR. Colorado finished 2013 with a -1.2 WAR on defense while the Pirates finished with a +4.9 defensive WAR even though Colorado finished with a higher fielding percentage than the Pirates (.986 to .984).

      • The Masked robshelb



        You make excellent points here, and I think everyone agrees (or should agree) that pitching WAR has some deficiencies. That being said, however, it’s no accident that in terms of Fangraphs team pitching WAR projections, the Marlins, Brewers, Astros, and Mets are at the bottom of the ranking. Whereas the Red Sox, the Tigers, and the Rangers are at the top of the list.


    • Matthew McCarty

      fangraphs has travis snider as Gaby’s platoon mate, and the pitching war seems way off. Do you think the Yankees rotation is 4 wins better than the Cardinals? The rockies have the best rotation in the NL, with Tyler Chatwood on par with Cole, and better than everyone but Liriano in the Pirates rotation. rest easy

  • CalipariFan506

    WAR for Pirates pitching isn’t relevant because they don’t strike many guys out.

    • JAL

      Pirates pitchers were 9th in MLB and 3rd in NL in strikeouts last season

  • Frank Restly


    I think it is a combination of things. The Pirates led the majors in runners thrown out caught stealing last year (43), were ninth in double plays turned (150), were second in save % (79% of opportunities), and were fifth in left on base percentage (75%). The first two the pitcher gets no credit for. The second two are situational pitching that may not come through in the WAR metric.

    • IC Bob

      Frank you may hear the wrath of the WAR freaks if you suggest WAR is not the end all for determining the value of a player. My only question so far is how we don’t rank 30th at 1B in the Fangraphs. Its hard for me to imagine 10 teams with a worse situation then us at 1B. This team will be fun to watch but I am not sure how good we will be. A lot went right last year. I am cautiously hopeful but I would not be surprised if we stumble early. Its sometimes harder to play free and easy when expectation are so high.

      • Frank Restly

        IC Bob,

        But we are not talking about whether WAR is a good metric for evaluating an individual player. We are talking about whether a team can be evaluated by simply summing the various WAR ratings for each of its players – especially for a pitching staff.,ts&rost=0&age=0&filter=&players=0

        Last year the Pirates finished with a 13th in pitching WAR (16.2) and 12th in batting WAR (23.2). Every person who watched the Pirates last year would tell you they were a very good pitching team with below average hitting. And yet the WAR numbers would say they were about average in both hitting and pitching.

      • Cato the Elder

        I have never once heard anybody every claim that WAR is the be all end all of player evaluation. That is a strawman if I ever saw one. What I have seen, repeatedly, is evidence that you don’t understand WAR as a metric – what question it addresses; how it’s tabulated – or any inclination to familiarize yourself with the concept so that you could join the rest of us here in the 21st century. Put most simply, WAR is a measure of a player’s overall value: batting, base running, fielding. It uses historical data to determine linear weights of each event in baseball, applies these weighted values to a players actual production, and then relates them to a hypothetical “replacement level player.” Nobody thinks its perfect: defensive metrics are imperfect/unstable, replacement level is a murky concept, and frankly it is a blunt measurement, i.e. the difference between a 3.2 and a 3.3 win player is insignificant. But what it lacks in precision it makes up for in well-roundedness, that is to say it captures the total package – batting, baserunning, and fielding – in a way that is missing from batting average, or HRs, or RBI, or OPS, etc.

        In the end, there are objections to be made regarding WAR, or rather there is a proper perspective to have when viewing WAR. It certainly is not the be all end all. May I suggest reading the following:

    • The Masked robshelb


      If you’re throwing out lots of base-runners, turning lots of DP’s, and stranding a bunch of guys on base, then that may be in part a function of good defense (to some degree), as opposed to solely being credited to good pitching.

  • Bridgevillebuc

    The Pirates were one of the ten teams to make the playoffs and were rated in the top ten!!!!


    Did Buster also conclude that the sky is BLUE?????

  • emjayinTN

    With the new SABR methods of interpreting the play of baseball players, I think it is now possible to keep looking until you find what you need to sell your point. The issue today is WAR, but I have had a problem with why UZR or UZR/150 are better evaluaters than Fielding Percentage combined with Range Factor (also a Bill James number). To my feeble brain, for an infielder, if you can get to more, and field and throw it efficiently and properly, why would I concern myself with consideration of outfield assists, which I think is one of the considerations of the UZR number?

    Want some interesting data – pull up the Range Factor/9 for 1B in 2013 and you will find none other than Gaby Sanchez on top of the heap at 10.40 (Todd Helton is second). And, Gaby’s .996 Fielding %age is 5th overall for qualified 1B. In 2012 Gaby had a fielding %age of .996 which placed 4th, and a Range Factor/9 of 9.89 which is 3rd overall of qualified 1B. If you want some more, pull up the Fan Graphs Pitch f/x Plate Discipline Numbers for some Pirate batters in 2013 and you will find that Gaby Sanchez is a very efficient hitter. In fact, compared to Andrew McCutchen, Gaby swung at only 21% of pitches outside the zone while ‘Cutch swung at 23% outside the zone. And for overall contact, Gaby puts 84% in play while ‘Cutch puts 80% in play. I doubt that there would be anyone on the Pirates who has numbers as good as Sanchez and ‘Cutch in these categories. In my estimation, Gaby Sanchez is a plus fielder at 1B, and a solid OBP performer because he is a very tough out at the plate.

    • piraddict

      emjay, what changes does Gabby need to implement to improve his performance against RHP?

      • emjayinTN

        pir: Hard to figure, but it has gotten worse since he has been used as a platoon specialist in 2012 and 2013. When he played full time for Miami in 2010 and 2011, he batted 572 times each year – more than 70% of those AB’s were against RHP’s and his slash lines were .256/.324/.419/.743 against RHP’s in 2010 and .257/.331/.411/.742 in 2011 against RHP’s. His lines were much better against LHP’s with a .925 OPS against LHP’s in 2010, and .901 OPS against LHP’s in 2011, but his numbers in almost 900 AB’s against RHP’s are highly acceptable.

        The groupings of his AB’s in 2010 and 2011 against RHP’s are amazingly close showing consistent results, with OBP’s of around .330 and OPS numbers of .742. These are numbers the Pirates could live with as a full time first baseman, especially when you know the AB’s against LHP’s will be around .900 OPS, and his plus defense is taken into consideration. I am not a psych of any sort, but when you platoon, you are not prepared mentally to face RHP’s, and the only time you see a RHP is late in a game when you have been inserted into the lineup as a defensive substitution. That means your one or two AB’s will be against a fresh RH specialist out of the BP, and not a tired SP you are seeing for the 3rd or 4th time. I think he has proven he can hit in the majors and if we allow him to be a full time player against whatever side the SP throws from, he will respond with better numbers. He stays balanced, has an excellent eye at the plate, his W/K Ratio with the Pirates is around .800, and he uses the whole field.

  • leadoff

    IMO, I need sabre metrics like a hole in the head to figure out that the 2014 Pirates are going to be a good team, once you are good anything can happen both good and bad, good can get better, and bad can happen with injuries and poor performance, sabre metrics will be a result of what happens.
    Any idiot could watch Polanco and not know 1 stat and know he is loaded with talent and only playing time in Major league baseball will tell if he can manifest that talent, thus affecting an already good team.
    So in the case of “War” or UZR, they are not necessary IMO to determine the 2014 Pirates are going to be a good team.

    • buster09

      Great points lead off. I particularly like the statement regarding Polanco. He had one bad offensive stretch here in Altoona,and some of that was bad luck with BIP. But all you had to do is pay attention to what he was swinging at, ( or not swinging at ! ) and you knew it was just a matter of time.

  • Scott Skink

    Fifth in NL?

    Based on personal eye test, offseason moves and available stats/history, I’d think the NL leaders would be, in order:
    1. Cards
    2. Dodgers
    3. Nats
    4. Braves
    5. Reds
    6. Pirates/Rockies (tie)

    That said, the Reds also have a recent history of underperforming and the Rockies often seem to be an enigma influenced more by park factor than any team not playing home games at PNC (see this week’s Fangraphs article on park factors and the unexplained benefits to the Bucs).

    However, the Nats and Rockies have, IMO, made the most aggressive and smartest moves to become playoff contenders, while the Pirates have gotten worse by “replacing” AJ with Volquez and T. Sanchez’s bat with Stewart. That’s not even counting the LHB hole at 1b.

    Yes, Taillon and Polanco will help. The Bucs were 11 games over .500 when Cole came up in 2013. That record was aided by solid work from Wandy and Locke, two huge question marks for 2014. As currently constructed, I do not see the 2014 Bucs being 11 over in early June. More like 5-6 games over at that point and then performing roughly the same as last year’s team through July-September. Maybe an 86-88 win team which might be good enough, but probably not.

    And that’s if there are no key injuries. The Pirates have no depth at several key positions. If Marte keeps getting hit, I assume he’ll miss at least a month. God forbid Cutch or Pedro pulls a muscle.

    Unfortunately, I’m of the opinion that Neal (and by extension, Nutting) is deliberately taking this year off and will wait until next season to make moves knowing he’s got the best OF and Cole/Taillon/Kingham in the rotation. I don’t know why Neal isn’t adding for this year, but the (in)actions thus far seems to indicate that he’s comfortable taking a big risk that the Bucs will not compete for a playoff spot this year.

    • CalipariFan506

      I still don’t get exactly what move Huntington can theoretically make to improve an 86 team to a 94 win team.

      • Scott Skink

        I don’t think they need to be a 94 win team. But probably 90 is comfortable for 2nd WC. And Doug Fister probably gets you all of that in one shot. The Nats gave up pretty much nothing that the Bucs don’t have in expendable spades. And to lose out – and perhaps worse, not even be in the loop – on Fister to the one team that has the best chance of taking the Bucs’ WC spot… not hopeful. These are the kinds of deals Neal needs to be making.

        • Nathan Swartz

          Maybe they were. We don’t know that. Maybe the asked for too much. Or maybe, NH is just as bummed as you are that he never even got the opportunity.
          Too many times I think we believe every GM has an opportunity at every deal. Highly doubt NH was offered and said “nah, thanks though.” I also don’t think the Tigers shopped him effectively enough.

    • dr dng

      I’ve not seen Kingham pitch.
      Is he good enough to be mentioned
      in the same sentence with the
      other two?

      • buster09

        Yes. From what I saw of him,he has the ceiling of a Number 2 starter,and unless an injury or some other unknown factor jumps up,he would be a more than solid 3 guy.

    • buster09

      ” I don’t know why Neal isn’t adding for this year, ” Scott,if YOU were NH,just WHO would you have added,or add in the near future, to put the Pirates into the middle 90s win column again ? I personally would have liked to have seen Cano and Tanaka added,plus a trade for Bogaerts,but of course,then there is reality. So please give us your course of action to consider this cold day in Pa.

  • buster09

    By the way Scott,if you have never heard Dombrowski comment on that deal,he got the people HE wanted,and NH didn’t have them ! I don’t know what is hard to understand that. What was Huntingdon going to do,persuade him that he didn’t want those people ?

    • Scott Skink

      Whatever dude. It’s pretty obvious to me you’ve never had a responsible job in business that dealt with PR. Or that you remember that Neal got the guy HE wanted in Aki. And Matt Diaz. And Brandon Wood. And should I go on?

      You’re always going to rationalize a deal, especially after you realize you just made a BAD one. Sheesh.

      • buster09

        ” Dude “. I just asked you a question,and aside from your remarks about what and where I might have been employed,I see nothing. You seem to have all the amswers,so why not tell us what your business plan would be ? By the way,I had an excellent and very challenging position in the heavy and highway construction industry that not only dealt with Public Relations regarding projects that involved hundreds of millions of dollars.And probably was in that field longer than you have been alive. Just to satisfy your curiosity.

        • Scott Skink

          With that kind of experience in PR, you more than most, should know firsthand that press statements are rarely transparent and even more rarely, completely truthful. They’re meant to spin public perception. So how is it, with your experience, you believe every word out of Dombrowski’s mouth?

          The trade is immensely unpopular in Detroit where Tiger fans believe the return for Fister was dreadful. Dombrowski has to punch from his heels – and saying he got “the guys he wanted” isn’t mollifying anyone. Better deals could’ve been on the table, including from the Pirates – especially since Dombrowski admits he’s STILL looking for a closer. C’mon man, put 2 and 2 together.

  • leadoff

    Todays “Bucs do not buy players, they breed them”. They are breeding a bunch of studs right now and they don’t need to get into the stupidity of paying fortunes for players that are not any better than what they are breeding. Every player that was available to them over the winter came with some type of deficiency, including the players they could trade for. IMO, they probably will still make a few minor moves, but highly unlikely they will make any splash moves, hopefully they won’t make any splash moves, I like what they have now.

    • unfurious

      leadoff – I like your point. I think that most people feel/felt (myself included) that if PIT could take a major deficiency like 1B and turn it into a big positive like (insert pipe dream here) then the team would be a monster in 2014. But the right deal still has to be there. The stated goal of the FO is not to win next year. It’s to contend every year. That means keeping the pipeline open. Instead of trying to win on paper in the offseason, NH has chosen to insulate his team with depth for the regular season. There are FAs that I would have liked to have seen signed but NH has earned my trust.
      I could actually see PIT selling high on Pedro next year, literally. Since he is a Boras guy there is almost no chance of signing him after his arbitration years. If he continues to progress next year, they could sell his 2 controllable years in the offseason for a good prospect and a boatload of money. Then they could move Walker to 3rd and use the house money to sign guys like Marte and Polanco into their geriatric years.

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