We’re almost a month into the 2014 season, and the Pittsburgh Pirates are off to a rough start. They’re 10-16, the offense has been poor, and the pitching has been closer to middle of the pack than a top group this year. There are calls for Gregory Polanco to arrive on a daily basis, along with any other help the Pirates can find. Guys like Polanco would help, but the truth is that this team is seeing several of their expected top performers struggle. As long as that is happening, they’re going to continue to lose, with or without Polanco and company from Triple-A.
You can’t make much of the stats from the first month of the season. To put things in perspective, this time last year Andrew McCutchen had a .661 OPS, while Travis Snider had an .812 OPS. McCutchen went on to win the NL MVP award, while Snider struggled and had a horrible season. So while the five players below have struggled, that doesn’t mean they’ll play the same way the next five months. Almost all of them should bounce back and play up to expectations. But if you’re looking for a big reason why the team is currently performing so poorly, the results from these players is a good place to look.
Starling Marte – It’s not a huge difference, but right now, Marte is being out-hit by Travis Snider. He’s also one OPS point behind Jose Tabata. That should put the early part of his season in perspective. He has been getting on base at a better rate with walks, but that’s not helpful if the rest of his game — the power and the ability to hit for average — aren’t there as well. Having your leadoff hitter put up a .308 OBP and a .612 OPS isn’t going to do much for the offense.
Pedro Alvarez – Even if the Pirates had someone setting the table, they aren’t getting a lot of production from the middle of the lineup. Pedro Alvarez had a hot start, but has since cooled, and has a .667 OPS in 93 at-bats. Alvarez, Marte, and most of the number two spot candidates (Snider, Tabata, Russell Martin) are currently combining to give the Pirates three guys with a sub-.700 OPS in the top four spots of the order. They have no one setting the table, and even if they did, they’d have no one bringing those guys in.
Charlie Morton – He has a 4.35 ERA in 31 innings, with a few rough starts. Morton was looking like a solid middle of the rotation starter at the end of the 2013 season. If he can get back to that — and I think he can — then that would be a big boost to the team. I don’t think the offense will continue to struggle like it has, but even with a weak offense, the Pirates have shown that they can win with pitching and defense. Having Morton bouncing back would be a big help there.
Francisco Liriano – After his last start, Liriano has a 3.97 ERA in 34 innings, with a 34:14 K/BB ratio. Those aren’t bad numbers, but he’s not pitching like the ace of the staff. I’ve never bought the “every other year” theory, which points out that Liriano hasn’t put up two good years in a row. It’s correlation, but there’s no reason why Liriano wouldn’t be good two years in a row. I think he will rebound, but not having an ace for the first month of the season definitely hurts — especially when the offense has struggled.
Jason Grilli – I don’t think there were many people expecting Grilli to repeat his dominant 2013 numbers, especially the performances prior to his injury. However, I also don’t think many people were anticipating what we’ve seen so far out of the right-hander. He has blown three saves in seven attempts. He is striking out less than a batter an inning. It’s only eight innings, and he’s currently on the disabled list with an oblique injury. The hope is that his struggles in that small sample size are due to the injury. I rely on the larger sample that he has put up the last few years, but you can’t ignore the fact that he has blown the lead in three games so far this year, with two of those games ended up in losses. The Pirates are 12-14 if he converts those two saves.
Links and Notes