First Pitch: 21 Reasons Why the Pirates Are Going to Have Another Good Season in 2014

Every team has a weakness. Most of this off-season has been spent focusing on the big weaknesses for the Pirates — the first base spot and the fifth starter spot in the rotation.

The Pirates didn’t do anything over the off-season to ease concerns about those two spots. And in the process, people continued to focus on those two positions, all while ignoring the fact that the positives on this team far out-weigh the negatives.

I talked about how the first base position looks bad here, here, and here. I talked about how the Edinson Volquez experiment wasn’t looking good this Spring, and mentioned him as a red flag in the rotation to start the year.

I could continue writing the same thing about those two positions. But instead, I think I’ll point out all of the reasons why the Pirates are going to have another good season, even with those two potential holes on the roster.

1. An MVP

(Photo Credit: David Hague)

Andrew McCutchen – (Photo Credit: David Hague)

2. A young outfielder who was worth 4.6 WAR in his first full season

Starling Marte

Starling Marte – (Photo Credit: David Hague)

3. The NL home run leader

Pedro Alvarez Fireworks

Pedro Alvarez – (Photo Credit: David Hague)

4. One of the best defensive catchers in the game

Russell Martin blocks pate

Russell Martin – (Photo Credit: David Hague)

5. A starting pitcher who pitched like an ace last year

(Photo Credit: David Hague)

Francisco Liriano – (Photo Credit: David Hague)

6. A future ace who looked like he was stepping into that role at the end of the 2013 season

Gerrit Cole Pittsburgh Pirates

Gerrit Cole – (Photo Credit: David Hague)

7. A pitcher who looked like a strong middle of the rotation starter after returning from Tommy John surgery

(Photo Credit: David Hague)

Charlie Morton – (Photo Credit: David Hague)

8. A pitcher who posted strong numbers before his injury, and looked healthy this Spring

Wandy Rodriguez

Wandy Rodriguez – (Photo Credit: David Hague)

9-14. Six out of seven regulars returning from a bullpen that ranked as one of the top bullpens in baseball last year

(Photo Credits: David Hague)

Main Photo: Jason Grilli, Clockwise: Mark Meleancon, Tony Watson, Justin Wilson, Bryan Morris, Jeanmar Gomez – (Photo Credits: David Hague)

15-16. At least league average production or better at the two middle infield spots

(Photo Credits: David Hague)

Jordy Mercer (left) and Neil Walker (right) – (Photo Credits: David Hague)

17-19. A group of starting pitchers in Triple-A who could probably make the Opening Day rotation for about 10 teams this year

(Photo Credits: David Hague)

Brandon Cumpton (left), Jeff Locke (top right), and Phil Irwin (bottom right) – (Photo Credits: David Hague)

20-21. And finally, two of the game’s top prospects expected to arrive this summer

(Photo Credits: Tim Williams)

Gregory Polanco (top) and Jameson Taillon (bottom) – (Photo Credits: Tim Williams)

So yeah, we could focus on the two positions where the Pirates have a weakness, and point out how they didn’t do anything this off-season. That’s a totally valid complaint and shouldn’t be ignored. But in the process, let’s not ignore the strengths all over this team, which were the strengths that helped them win 94 games last year.

Links and Notes

**The 2014 Prospect Guide is in stock on the products page of the site. The book features profiles, scouting reports, and grades on every player in the minor league system, including our top 50 prospects. The Prospect Guide has been mentioned as a resource several times on the Pirates’ broadcast, and has been purchased as a source of reference by opposing MLB front office members, opposing scouts, and media members. If it’s a good resource for them, it’s a good resource for you. You can order your Prospect Guide on the products page of the site.

**Here are all of the season preview articles:

**Week In Review: Opening Day Rosters, Marte Extension, Taillon Injury Updates

**Pittsburgh Pirates Set Opening Day Roster

**Altoona Curve Release Opening Day Roster

**Pirates Release Quincy Latimore and Erick Fernandez

**Draft Prospect Watch: Wrapping Up the National HS Invitational

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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  • https://profiles.google.com/100212786463678215436 Nathan Swartz

    Thanks Tim! That’s the outlook I prefer!

    Guess you haven’t been listening to some of the commenters, if you are not pessimistic, you are not realistic.
    Full seasons of Cole, Liriano, Wandy, and Morton should provide a huge boost. Glad NH didn’t cave and overpay/mortgage part of future for a mediocre 1st base platoon (I’m all for finding out about Lambo).
    This team is ahead of schedule anyway. Wasn’t expecting to really push until next year.

    • emjayinTN

      NS: I agree and appreciate Tim for posting the reasons why we should be feeling pretty good about the Pirates of 2014. Yes, we can pick at some open sores, but 1 thru 14, and 17 thru 21 are all about how well we have done in drafting/developing and trading/developing a very strong nucleus for the fans of Pittsburgh. I happen to think that we have a much better rotation at both 1B and RF than we started with last year, three starting pitchers who were in doubt last year – Liriano, Morton, and Cole – who are now proven 1, 2, and 3 SP’s in our Rotation. The BP had doubts such as Melancon, Gomez, and Wilson, who were all solid contibutors in 2013 and should continue into 2014. And the future is very bright.

      Let’s Go Bucs!

  • acloskey

    The way people talk about the flaws in the 2014 roster, you’d think they didn’t spend all of 2013 complaining about the roster, too. So much concern over Byrd and Morneau when their best streaks came before the all star break.

    Karabell thinks the Bucs are due to regress below .500 which is 13 wins. And then says the NL West is loaded with good teams (who did not finish above .500)

    Nothing satisfies an analyst but his own narrative.

    • leowalter

      Neither the Fangraphs staff or the MLB Network analysts were nearly as negative about the Pirates as Baseball Prospective and ESPN are. As a matter of fact,Peter Gammons called the Pirates the most interesting team in the NL,while picking the Dodgers,Nats and Cardinals as the strongest at this time.As a matter of fact,the MLB folks all had a little laugh about the Pecota projection for the Pirates.

  • skliesen

    It’s Opening Day! I predict no less than 95 wins and a NL Central division crown. I refuse to believe the loss of two 1-month rentals, and the exchange of one SP reclamation project for a cheaper version, is enough to off-set the experience and confidence gained by our core group from last season.

    Clear the decks! Cannonball coming!

    • Dom DiDominic

      Dodgers are the Vegas favorites and the over/under is 94.5 wins. Cards 2nd with 91. Getting around a B+ (87-89) should be enough for playoffs.

  • https://profiles.google.com/100212786463678215436 Nathan Swartz

    Bonds gets such a warm reception that he decides to solve our 1st base problem himself and bat behind Pedro.

    • leowalter

      And he probably can still hit !

    • Lee Young

      If only he a) had stayed, b) had a halfway decent personality and c) had never juiced.

  • lonleylibertarian

    Happy Opening Day to all!
    Getting out my rose colored glasses and seeing everything good – time to hope all works out and we have playoffs at PNC!

    I have often wondered how Barry would have enjoyed PNC – lots of river shots me thinks

  • lonleylibertarian

    I have expressed my doubts and concerns a lot – but I do have a few reasons that I might be wrong – and hope that a few of them come to be – and we get to see this team go deep in the playoffs.

    1. Cutch is on a mission. I think I saw a very determined MVP this spring. He wants very much to get better and not settle. I think he worked hard on his power – and wants to get back to 30+ HRs. We know he can run more/better than he has the last two seasons – so look for an increase in SBs also. With better protection throughout the season ,330, 30 HR, 30 SB, 110 RBI, 100 Runs and a second MVP.

    2. Pedro – at times this spring I thought I saw a more selective approach, If he can get the strikeouts down just a bit and really punish weak right handers we might see him break .250 and hit 40+ HR

    3. Cole – the competitive fire seems real – he steps up and becomes the new AJ – demanding more of himself and the rest of the staff. The pitcher that we saw last September is around for a full year and becomes a top 5 starter in the NL.

    4. Walker – I have expressed my concerns several times that we have seen the best of Walker – that he is getting older and the production will continue to slip. NOTHING would make me happier than him proving me totally wrong. A 3+ WAR season from him would be great – and him playing in 140+ games too.

    5. Martin – Contract year – I think he wants that one big deal – and a better offensive season coupled with his defense will put the Pirates in a very good position [which they will probably screw up - but that sort of thinking is for later] they can QO him and have him for 2015 at a fair price while the gradually move Sanchez into the catcher of the near future role [and he provides a bat off of the bench] or they can get an additional draft pick if Martin signs a big deal elsewhere.

    6. Marte – I would love to see them find a way to move him out of leading off – but regardless, he moves to a 5+ WAR level with more power and fewer strikeouts.

    7. Wandy and Ground Chuck. The top two of the rotation are solid – and should be productive if healthy – but the big deal would be if both of these guys can run off a bunch of quality starts and give the Bucs a real advantage agains every teams 3/4/5 starters. IF they are both healthy and can pitch 180 or so innings it would be a big help and pleasant surprise.

    8. An unforeseen surprise. Everyone is pretty much penciling in Polanco for June – and Taillon will probably be available to end the Volquez experiment at some point. But I think every year there is something that we don’t see happening that surprises us in a good way – here are some possibilities – but if a real surprise happens it won’t make the list.
    - Snider gets off to a great start and stays healthy and really crushes RH pitching – ends up battng over .300 with 20+ HRs
    - Tabata takes advantage of a few starts in April – does well and takes over the leadoff spot by early May allowing Marte to bat 5th behind Pedro. hits a solid .290 and steals 20+ bases – scores over 100 runs.
    - A minor leaguer gets really hot – Lambo maybe – but maybe Alan Hanson – and gets to PNC right around the all start break and makes a difference in the second half of the season.
    - Gabby really can be the full time first baseman
    - Kyle McPherson – remember him – adds a quality arm in August.
    - ????

    LETS GO BUCS!

    • NorCalBuc

      LonelyLib ~ Well thought through post!

      • Lee Young

        NorCal….don’t fooget our game chat over at the Asylum!

        • NorCalBuc

          Foo Buck ~ THANKS for the reminder; I’mm too focussed on the action to be commenting, except to myself and whoever is within ear range in the ‘hood!

          I’ll be around for post-game commentary

          • Lee Young

            NorCal…I am the same way….actually, I DVR it….

            Post Game Too, Foo

    • Lee Young

      we’ll make an optimist out of you yet!!

  • BuccosFanStuckinMD

    I think Marte is going to have a huge season this year.

  • Lee Young

    Duckwoes

    Off topic….
    …who are you that you know Dave Buller?
    Send me an email at leefoo@verizon.net.

    I bet he is agonizing over Ruben “Don’t care about” T’Amaro!!!

    I just sent him an email message. He was one of my favorite bosses. I was lucky to have lots of good bosses….he was the first good one I had. He put me on ‘special projects’, a heckuva leap and a lot of trust went into that. Not unlike the trust the Bucs put in Cholly Morton? lol…

  • Lee Young

    I don’t know about anyone else, but it is sure nice worrying about filling a hole at 1b and worrying about our #5 starter.

    Because, when you compare it to ALL the holes we had to fill back in the “Aughties”, this is awful, awful nice.

    Back then, it seemed like every starter we had was a #5 starter….lol

  • Lee Young

    Tim…loved the ’21′ reference!

  • sweetleb

    not sold on wandy, stolomy and tallion in rotation by june 15

  • John

    Projected to be 52 degrees at game time but will feel warmer do to lots of sunshine.

  • mysonisnamedafterRoberto

    I guess there are really 4 starters in AAA that could probably make 10 teams when you include Taillon. That is pretty impressive. I’m not sure there are many teams who could said that. Also when you consider Gomez and Pimentel who, if stretched out could be starters.

    Last year was a little bit of anomaly when you look at the starters. The starters ranked 24th in innings, they had the 4th lowest in pitch count for starters at 15.73 per inning, but yet throw the 6th lowest % of strikes to total pitches and had the fourth lowest strikes to ball ratio. And somehow had the 5th lowest ERA at 3.5. Just to put that into perspective the other teams with lower of strikes % and strikes to ball ratio: where the Cubs 3.97 ERA, Padres, Rockies, Astros and Twins with 4.31, 4.57, 4.72 and 5.26 ERAs respectively or not! Do that Voodoo that you do, Ray!!

    It will be interesting to see how the rotation does. 38% on the innings started last year are not in this rotation, but with Ray ‘I could turn a stick of butter into a pitcher’ Searage, I feel confident we will see very little regression. The team will need to repeat last year innings logged with a little bump from the top four.

    Last year the starters logged 925 innings. Basically 1 pitcher around 200, two around 170 and 2 around 120 innings: that left 171 inning not logged by the five top starter. So about 33, or 20% of the starts, not by your rotation, calculating at 5.2 innings. The best case scenario, this year, is that starters log more innings than last year. There were lots of injuries, a fail 5th starter to start the season. I think you would want to reduce the wear and tear on the bullpen, seeing they throw 37% of the innings last year. League average around 29%.

    Looking at this year with that in mind, that is about 1044 innings by starters. Ideally, you hope for Liriano or Cole both to reach 200. Morton and Rodriquez at the 170 inning range, 50 more innings for Morton and 100 more for Rodriquez, that gets you to 740. That leave you short about 304 innings short, or about 51 6 innings starts. That depth is going to be tested, even if Volzquez throw 150 innings or half of the innings, that leaves 25 starts from that AAA starters and long relievers.

  • ElGaupo77

    Gaby against LHPs should be #22. He OPSed over 1000 last year against them.

  • BobDH

    Here! Here! Well said.