First Pitch: Why I’m Not Worried About the Pirates Offense

I can’t say that I’m too worried about the Pittsburgh Pirates’ offense. I don’t think they’re going to be a top offense in the league. I’m not saying that the string of home runs hit in that Little League park in Cincinnati is legit. I’m just saying that if you look at the offense, the positions you expected to perform aren’t performing.

First you’ve got Andrew McCutchen, the MVP of the league, with a .707 OPS coming into the game tonight. McCutchen got off to a slow start last April, then turned on the guns in May and went on to win the MVP award. Is McCutchen the next Adam LaRoche, only being able to hit when the calendar turns to May? I don’t know. What I do know is that there’s no way McCutchen continues at this level. He will improve, and the offense will improve with him.

Starling Marte is in a similar situation, with a .704 OPS. The crazy thing is that Marte has done a good job of getting on base, with a .357 OBP. His average is down, and the power is way down. That power won’t continue to stay down, and when he returns to his normal levels, he will give the Pirates a big boost.

Then there’s Jordy Mercer. You can’t really point to a track record here, since Mercer only has half a season in the majors. He had a .393 OPS coming into the game. But this isn’t the first time Mercer has had a few bad weeks. Last year he had a .407 OPS over 45 at-bats during the first few weeks of July. The difference? The July numbers were hidden by his hot start in June. The numbers this year are isolated because they are coming in the first two weeks of the season. Mercer will improve his hitting, and I’d expect him to return to last season’s pace.

On the flip side, there are guys who are hitting well, and it would be unfair to expect them to continue playing above their heads, while expecting everyone else to break out of their slumps. Travis Snider has a .789 OPS, compared to a career .703 OPS. Pedro Alvarez has an .835 OPS, compared to a .770 and .784 the last two years, respectively. Russell Martin has an .851 OPS, after being around .700 the last two years. Of the three, I think Alvarez is the most likely to be legit.

But then there’s Neil Walker, who has a .657 OPS so far, despite a career .760 OPS. He’s another guy who I think will improve, because I’m putting more stock in his career numbers than a two week sample size.

Overall the Pirates have more players who are expected to improve, compared to players who are at risk to decline. I could see Snider and Martin coming back to Earth, but I could also see big jumps from McCutchen, Marte, Walker, and Mercer.

The two expected problem spots were first base and right field. Currently the Pirates have players hitting the ball well at each position in the minors. Gregory Polanco probably won’t come up until June for Super Two purposes, especially if Snider keeps hitting. Andrew Lambo is hitting well, and could come up earlier, especially if Travis Ishikawa continues hitting for an OPS around his current .684 mark.

The offense isn’t going to be one of the best in the league, but they are going to be much better than this.

Links and Notes

**I’ll be taking a break over the next few days, although I’ve got some articles lined up, so you probably wouldn’t have known I was gone had I not said anything. I’m mentioning this to point out that there will be a few guest authors for First Pitch this week. Ryan Palencer, our new Indianapolis writer, will be writing tomorrow’s article with his thoughts on the Indianapolis team. He also has a great article on Gregory Polanco tomorrow morning. John Dreker will be writing Thursday’s article, giving his thoughts on where the 2014 draft picks stand with less than two months to go until the draft. And of course, you can follow John’s regular draft updates on our 2014 Draft page.

**Every Monday we will have our “Top Performers” series, highlighting the top ten hitters and starting pitchers in the minor league system from the previous week. Here are this week’s articles:

**Prospect Watch: Willy Garcia Hits His Third Homer in Altoona

**Minor League Schedule: Adrian Sampson Has Looked Strong Early On

**Brewers Jump Past the Pirates in the Latest Playoff Odds. Still a little early to take playoff odds seriously, but with that disclaimer, we’ll be following them all season.

**Injury Updates: Tyler Glasnow, Harold Ramirez, Barrett Barnes

**Luis Heredia Placed on the West Virginia DL

**Gregory Polanco Named the International League Batter of the Week

**Prospect Highlights: More Speed and Defense From Gregory Polanco

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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  • Lee Young

    I expect this offense to be middle of the pack. It is the pitching that will win games for them.

  • BuccosFanStuckinMD

    I am not overly concerned with the Pirates offense either – I know guys like McCutchen, Marte, Mercer, Martin will all hit a lot better than they have been – I have zero concerns with those guys. I think Alvarez will always be what he is now – a guy who will hit 30-40 HRs every year, drive in 100+ runs, hit anywhere from .230 to .250, and strikeout 150+ times. I don’t see him ever becoming a threat to hit .300. Polanco will be up within a month or so, and he will add an entire new dynamic to the lineup – speed and power. Tabata, Snider, Sanchez (both of them) are all respectable hitters off the bench. I am still a believer in Lambo, and I think he will still contribute in a mjor way to this team later in the year.

    Actually, I am more concerned with the pitching. Liriano, Cole, and Morton are all pretty solid – but, only Cole really has the chance to be a true #1. Liriano had a great year last year, but I am not 100% sure he can duplicate that. I am concerned about our current #4 and #5 starters – Volquez has pitched well, but can he sustain it all year? Rodriguez has just been flat out terrible. Grilli does not seem to be the same dominant closer he was before the injury last year, and Melancon is due to have some dropoff from a near perfect year last year. Gomez has been shaky – was last year a fluke? Morris has been very good, as has Wilson and Watson. Pimentel is another question mark and unproven.

  • Newmie

    What are your thoughts about signing Drew after the draft if Mercer does not reach his numbers from last year? I didn’t like the idea at first, but that would be a great way to acquire someone around the trade deadline. We could upgrade the team and not forfeit a pick or a player to trade for someone else. Even if Mercer rebounds, and I think he will, CH could use him at second and third to give those two a break. The same could be argued for Morales as well. Imagine signing both and what impact that would have on the lineup. I would imagine they both would be pretty rusty.

    • BuccosFanStuckinMD

      I assume, after the draft, neither of these guys will cost a draft pick? If so, Drew would be interesting – but I suspect he will be in high demand and his price tag will reflect that. Morales can hit, but the NL does not use a DH – so, where is he going to play? He is poor defensively and clogs the base paths. I would pass on him and hope that Lambo figures it out and becomes a viable option in the next 1-2 months.

  • emjayinTN

    Tim: I agree, and I think that it all starts with Andrew McCutchen, who is averaging a phenomenal 5.4 WAR per year since coming up 5 years ago. We have a very club-friendly deal with him that ends with a Club Option for $14.5 mil in 2018 at age 31. I recommend a contract so that he can play his whole career as a Pittsburgh Pirate. A $5 mil signing bonus, pick up the Option year in 2018 for $16 mil, $18 mil in 2019, 20 mil in 2020, 18 mil in 2021, $16 mil in 2022, and finish with $14 mil in 2023 which will be his age 36 season. If you look at the Braun contract, he and the Brewers agreed to set aside money from his contract each year, interest free, which would then be paid in equal payments for the 6 years following his retirement. That’s some unique “retirement” planning and that would also be a possibility.