First Pitch: Don’t Look Now, But the Pirates Have an Offense

Last year the Pittsburgh Pirates won because of their pitching. The pitching staff as a whole combined for a 3.58 xFIP, which tied the Atlanta Braves for third in the majors, and second in the NL. The offense was middle of the pack, by advanced metrics, with the Pirates ranking 13th in baseball with a 98 wRC+. The actual results under-performed the advanced metrics, leading to the Pirates finishing in the bottom third in runs scored.

This year we’re seeing the opposite. The offense for the Pirates has been doing well, especially in the last month. The Pirates rank 7th on the season in wRC+, and second in the NL. In the last month, they rank second in all of baseball in wRC+, and rank tenth overall in actual runs.

“We’ve been in a good place as far as getting in the box and making pitchers work for a while now,” Clint Hurdle said after tonight’s game. “Every guy has stepped up his game to some degree. We’re looking for the ball in spots early, and when it’s not there, we’re taking. We’ve been more confident to hit with two strikes.”

This doesn’t seem like it’s just a hot streak that will eventually fade. If you look at how the Pirates are getting these results, you’ll see a trend that could easily continue. This trend was on display tonight in their 8-1 victory over the Rays.

It starts with Andrew McCutchen, who went 3-for-5 with two runs knocked in. McCutchen has been playing like an MVP lately, with a .312/.400/.596 line in 125 plate appearances over the last 30 days.

It might help McCutchen that he’s now got two very capable hitters in front of him, adding a lot of speed to the top of the lineup. Gregory Polanco and Starling Marte each had hits in front of McCutchen tonight, with both players also using their speed to get in scoring position with stolen bases. Polanco has a .339/.409/.407 line in 66 plate appearances to start his career. Marte had a .380/.415/.520 line in 53 plate appearances from the time Polanco arrived to tonight. He also had three stolen bases in four attempts, and added another tonight.

All of this was expected. The talent from those three players could give the Pirates the best outfield in baseball, and that could come sooner rather than later. The impact of those three at the top of the order was described by Rays manager Joe Maddon after the game.

“They do have some speed at the top of the batting order and it really impacted the game because I think it kind of took [Alex Cobb] out of his normal rhythms, patterns,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said about the outfield trio.

What really broke the game open tonight was a three run homer by Pedro Alvarez. The Pirates haven’t seen a lot of power from Alvarez lately, as his last homer was on June 3rd. He led the NL in home runs from 2012-13. The power is a big part of his game, and adding his power behind the outfield trio could be a massive boost to the offense.

“A lot of times people have been taking their chances with Pedro,” Clint Hurdle said. “He’s an important part of our offense. We need him to fire. We need him to drive in runs. That’s very good to see from him tonight.”

There have been other players stepping up lately. Russell Martin is having a great season at the plate. Neil Walker was on fire in May, and will be returning tomorrow. The Pirates are going to have to find some way to get playing time for Josh Harrison once Walker returns. Even Jordy Mercer has been hitting lately, with an .834 OPS in June, prior to tonight.

The 2014 season has been the exact opposite of the 2013 season. The Pirates now have a good offense, and their pitching has been a big question mark. They’ve gotten good starts lately from Vance Worley, Brandon Cumpton, Jeff Locke, and Edinson Volquez tonight. Gerrit Cole should return by the end of the week to give the rotation a boost. But the Pirates might want to consider adding a starter, both for the short and long-term. Because what we’re seeing now looks legit in the short-term, and could be the start of something that will last for the long-term. Or at least as long as the trio of Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte, and Gregory Polanco are together, which is for at least four and a half more years.

Links and Notes

**Prospect Watch: Cole Tucker Makes Debut, Bell and Ramirez Extend Hit Streaks

**Pirates 23rd Round Pick Released From Tulane Commitment

**Minor League Schedule: Glasnow Goes Tuesday Morning, Kingham at Night

**Minor Moves: JaCoby Jones to Disabled List, Wholesale Changes for West Virginia

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

    Best part of this article?

    -The last line. It’s perfect. It made me smile.

  • freddylang

    Nice to see some steals taking them out of dp situations and moving those runners up…which I feel they do a poor job at..I live in St. Pete and don’t get to see them a lot but have watched them 10 or so times including the entire Miami series and they really struggled at maximizing their run potential despite a ton of guys on base. A lot of double plays and just empty outs in general…and some horrendous hitting with bases loaded…hopefully it is cyclical and now evening out.

  • Ron Loreski

    I think it might be time to experiment with Pedro at 1st. It gives the Pirates the deepest lineup they can possibly put together. And Harrison is a defensive upgrade at 3rdbase. I know Ike’s .362 OBP is nice, but he’s not producing runs. And I would much rather have Pedro’s power potential in the lineup over Ike’s. Just look at this lineup..

    RF-Polanco
    3B-Harrison
    CF-McCutchen
    2B-Walker
    LF-Marte
    1B-Alvarez
    C-Martin
    SS-Mercer.

    I know Pedro has never played 1st before, but he’s already a defensive liability at 3rd, so what does it hurt to move him over? If it’s successful, non-tender Ike in the offseason.

  • Travis Persinger

    Tickets for the next 2 games in St Pete…thrilled to see the boys in black and gold hopefully use this series as the blast off into true Wild Card contention for the remainder of the summer…I keep waiting on the Brewers to fall, the lack of depth has to get them eventually….right?

  • John

    If the Pirates outfield trio can stay healthy for the next 4 and 1/2 years they will be able to stay very competitive year after year because of the bargaining position they will be in with those positions locked in. That being said GP continues to impress me with his plate appearances. I’ve seen him get walks from being behind 1-2 or 0-2 at least 3 or 4 times in his short time up. And two of those were against left handers I believe. His call up has been a big boost to the line up regardless of what the stats say. (Which means I don’t know what the stats say, lol) They were playing better already when he came up but I think they have a half-step more of energy since he came up.

  • piratemike

    Pirates have been doing it against not very good teams.
    Volquez relaxed and pitched well when he got a big lead which most pitchers should.
    As soon as Pedro hits a homer everybody starts thinking he is going to turn it around.
    .
    The Pirates are a decent team, they are worth watching but they are an incomplete team
    and don’t really have it all together. NH should have a handle on the weaknesses and strengths of this team and if he can put the right people in place this should be a very good team next year.
    I am high on this organization and the Pirates are heading in the right direction they just haven’t got it over the hump yet where they can be included with the best teams but I find it exciting to watch them evolve.

    • leadoff

      I have seen every team in baseball, I would not be so fast to say that other teams have better talent than the Pirates do, in fact most of them have a lot more holes than the Pirates do and none of them, yes none of them have more depth than the Pirates do. When you can’t find a place for a hitter like Harrison, that shows what kind of talent is ahead of him. When you can go to AAA and get what ever you need, when you need it, that is depth. How strong a major league team is is measured in depth and because of that depth, somewhere around August, take a look at the standings.

      • piratemike

        I said the Pirates are an incomplete TEAM. That has nothing to do with talent and depth to my thinking.
        Liriano, Morton and Cole are not pitching as well as last year and the bullpen has blown a lot of saves.
        They also have to decide what to do with Pedro and first base.
        There is no team that is perfect.
        As I said I am high on this organization but they have some problems that have to be worked out.
        I did not mean for my original post to sound negative as you seem to have taken it but to deny any problems is just wrong.

  • bucsws2014

    It’s nice to have offense. And one of the things that’s really nice about it is that the Bucs finally have some flexibility to go big game hunting if they really wanted to, although Neal would have to find an alter ego, because his current one wouldn’t consider it….

    Anyway, reason I mention that is that It’s starting to percolate that the Rangers might be having a fire sale. And Darvish has not been labeled untouchable, yet. He’s got 3.5 years left on an extremely affordable contract, even for the Bucs. Figure he’ll be worth more than 15-16 WAR during that time, maybe more with a move to the NL. He’d be in his age 27.5/31 seasons.

    For all the talk about Price, I’d take Darvish over Price in a heartbeat. Few teams have the system depth to afford what’s likely A/A-/C+ or A/B/C+ prospects to get him. The Pirates are one of those teams.

    So I’ll throw this out there knowing it’ll offend sensibilities: Would you include Polanco in a deal to get Darvish if he were indeed available?

    Consider all the assumptions: You still have Cutch & Marte for a few years. You’ve got Harrison and even Lambo/Dickerson/Whomever at Indy. You’ve got Bell in a couple of years, if not sooner.

    What you don’t have is a proven, bonafide staff ace. You’d probably have to give up Glasnow or Kingham to boot.

    Mind you, this is pure speculation and a “just for fun” conversation.

    • Y2JGQ2

      I’d include Marte in a trade for Darvish, not Polanco, and not Glasnow. Marte and kingham for Darvish, i’d do. That’s the most you are getting out of me.

      • freddylang

        Darvish would require a boatload of talent to get.

    • leadoff

      The Pirates are so deep in pitching that the last thing they need to do is go hunting for pitching the brings a high all around price tag, the Cubs would be more of a team that would want Darvish and would have the resources to get him. To get Darvish they would have to take on salary they do not want to take on and give up prospects they don’t want to move, he is a good pitcher and I am sure they would like to have him, but the all around price would be far to high. You don’t break up your dream outfield as soon as you get it and you don’t give away talents like Glasnow or Kingham. If they would deal with someone like Bell, the Pirates might listen.

      • freddylang

        Definitely. It is a terrible idea for a small revenue team to have more than 20% of their payroll tied up in any one player.

        • bucsws2014

          Darvish will be making $10 million/year this year and next, then $11 million/year in 2016/17. Hardly 20% unless you think the Pirates are going to cut payroll to $50 mill, which I think some folks here would love.

          • freddylang

            Didn’t realize Darvish was that cheap. That would probably make their asking price even higher. They won’t part with him though. No reason for texas to sell the team off. They will get healthy and be very good next year.

      • bucsws2014

        Remember that the flaw in Billy Beane’s teams is that sabremetrics don’t matter much in the post-season. It’s mano a mano, and bargain-priced pitchers don’t usually win vs. veteran aces when it’s all on the line. Billy is trying to do it this year by scoring an insane number of runs, not by pitching.

        The question should be whether the Pirates have enough depth system wide to be able to pounce on the right deal when it becomes available in order to win a championship and be in position for the minors system to recover quickly. And Darvish is certainly cheap enough and controllable enough salary-wise to merit consideration as that kind of deal.

        If he were made available, it’s a game changing type of deal. And if the Bucs don’t do it, the Cards likely wouldn’t bat an eye. Gotta consider the entire picture.

        • leadoff

          The post season usually comes down to who is the hottest, the Pirates pitched very well against the Cards last year and lost to a kid just up from the minors not an aging veteran. Hitting usually carries the day in the playoffs, the Yankees always had a guy carry them in the playoffs, remember Reggie. Remember Freeze for the Cards. You can always find some hitter in the post season for a winning team that carried them. I would not go as far as to say you could win a pennant without good pitching, you actually need both.

          • bucsws2014

            Cole won one. Wacha won one. But Bucs lost twice to Wainwright.

            • jaygray007

              I think the pirates would be better off taking on the more expensive (money-wise) option since they have the money to spend, as proven by the $12 million offer to burnett.

              The more affordable – moneywise – a player is, the more expensive – prospectwise – he is to acquire. and Price is already expensive enough prospectwise.

              I have no idea how the Rangers could ever get close to fair value for Darvish.

              I know some don’t like using WAR, but it’s the best estimate of a player value i have right now. assume $6 million per WAR on open market. Assume Darvish puts up 5 WAR per season. Darvish makes about 10 million per year. he is worth 20 million more per year than what he is earning. and his contract goes until 2017.

              unless a major league piece is going the other way like marte or polanco to knock out a good bit of that excess value of darvish, this deal isn’t happening. most teams probably don’t have 10 prospects that could combine for fair value for darvish.

              Marte and a few prospects could work, but that just creates a hole in LF. Pointless (unless theyre reaaaalllyyy high on chris dickerson or mel rojas). Darvish is one of my favorite non pirates and i’d LOVE for them to get him, but it will be a few years before it’s even possible to consider. He is simply too valuable to even fathom the price going the other way if it’s only prospects going their way.

              • bucsws2014

                Reasonable, well-considered response.

                When I first saw the possibility of Darvish perhaps being available, I immediately thought the Rangers would be looking for an even bigger haul than what they got for Texeira (Andrus, Feliz, Salty, Matt Harrison & Beau Jones). Tex was coming off 3 years with a combined 16.2 WAR. And Andrus, Salty and Harrison were all top 5 prospects. Feliz was 13. Jones was a top 30.

                So yeah, it would have to be huge. Not Marte + some prospects.

  • http://@gwbicster gwbicster

    The Bucs did a great job last night hitting with runners on base. This is something that has been lacking this season despite the improved offensive numbers. I think Polanco’s presence in the lineup has something to do with this. If we are able to keep this up…..look out National League, the Bucs are going to be the best team in the league in the second half.

  • bucsws2014

    And the offense will now be without Tabata.

    I have to think Neal tried like crazy to trade him, but wasn’t willing to eat contract. Too bad for Tabby, he was having a decent season, and I think a bit more gap power would’ve come with more ABs. A few teams could use him.

    • piratemike

      why wouldn’t he eat some salary ? He is going to have to eat the whole thing if he doesn’t.
      Another team can get a player like Tabata for very little why pay him 8 m.

      • bucsws2014

        I’m guessing that because it seems odd that nobody would be interested in Tabby even if Neal ate some salary. He’s better than what some teams are putting out on the field right now.

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

    4 1/2 more years of those 3 at the top would make anyone smile. If We can get Alvarez rolling and Walker hits like he did before the surgery we will have 1 of the most potent 1-5 in baseball. 1. Polanco 2.Marte 3. Cutch. 4. Walker 5. Alvarez 6.Martin 7.Davis 8.Mercer.

    I was thinking if there was any chance of re-signing Alvarez (very unlikely) than it would be now while he’s down . Turning down a pretty decent extension might be a mistake. I feel it is necessary to keep the Core 5 hitters through 2018 or 2019 (the time Cutch will be here)
    Especially if you get Alvarez moved to 1B where he can relax a little more and focus more on hitting. Then that gives you more options Like Walker or Harrison to 3rd and the other to 2nd plus Alen Hansen will be up by 2016. Get Walker signed and make an attempt at Alvarez. He is hard to watch sometimes but where else are you going to find 30+ Hrs a year?