First Pitch: The Best Outfield in Baseball, and Maybe Eventually the Best Rotation?

For the last year, Pittsburgh Pirates fans have been looking forward to the “Dream Outfield” of Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte, and Gregory Polanco. McCutchen was already an MVP, Marte was quietly becoming an annual 4-5 WAR player, and I think Polanco has the upside to eventually be the best of the group. That combination looked like it could be the best outfield in baseball in the not too distant future.

One year later, it seems the rest of baseball is starting to take notice. That’s something that happens when the outfielders post the second best combined WAR in baseball, and the best in the NL (and that was without much production from Polanco). The debate this off-season has been whether the Pirates or the Marlins have the best outfield in the game. I may be a bit biased here in saying I’d pick the Pirates’ trio. A lot of the reasons to pick the Marlins right now are due to concerns over Marte’s plate patience, and due to Polanco being all about upside. I’ve never really been concerned with Marte’s lack of walks and strikeout totals, since his speed and other tools more than make up for that. And I love Polanco’s upside, as noted above.

If you want an unbiased opinion that picks the Pirates, check out this article from Jayson Stark. He picks the Pirates, then raves about the upside, while pointing out some very impressive stats. For example, take a look at the following summary of the three, while Stark was discussing the power/speed combo of the group.

So we’re looking at an outfield in which all three starters are coming off a string of seasons with 18 steals or more and double figures in homers. Did you know there have been only eight outfield trios that have done that, in the same season, in the entire live-ball era? And no team has ever had three outfielders do it two years in succession.

But these guys could. They’re all in their 20s. They’re all under team control at least through 2018. So they could conceivably do this for years.

That’s exciting for the Pirates. They’re getting a massive amount of production from their outfielders, without even considering any other position.

And that got me thinking about the next potential breakthrough for the Pirates — “The Dream Rotation.”

The Pirates have spent a lot of money on pitching in the draft. That is starting to spill over to the majors. Gerrit Cole is already here, and has shown flashes of his top of the rotation upside. Jameson Taillon would have arrived last year, had it not been for his Tommy John surgery. He should make the jump to Pittsburgh in the second half this year, and looks like a solid number two starter. Then there’s Tyler Glasnow, who has the upside to be better than any pitcher in the system. He’ll need some time in the upper levels to continue working on his changeup, and improving his command. He should arrive in the middle of the 2016 season.

Those are three guys with the potential to be top of the rotation starters. Then you’ve got Nick Kingham, who should arrive this year, and who has the upside to be a solid number three starter who eats 200 innings per year. Adrian Sampson has a chance to be a middle of the rotation guy, but looks more like a really strong number four if he figures everything out. And the lower levels features a lot of interesting arms, like Clay Holmes, Cody Dickson, Luis Heredia, and more who have the chance to be 3-5 starters in the majors.

A lot of “The Dream Rotation” will depend on how Cole, Taillon, Glasnow, and Kingham develop. The odds aren’t in their favor for all of them to reach their upsides in the majors. But with where they all are right now, the odds are pretty good that the Pirates will get at least two good starters from the group, with all four making the majors. Add in the magic powers of Ray Searage and Jim Benedict to turn around reclamation projects, and the Pirates could soon have not only the best outfield in baseball, but a shot at the best rotation in baseball. The Pirates are already contenders, but that combination could make them the model team in baseball.

**We have less than 100 paperback books of the 2015 Prospect Guide remaining from the final shipment. I don’t anticipate ordering another shipment this year. That means once the current batch is gone, the paperback version will be sold out. You can order your copy of the book on the products page of the site.

**Another Pitcher To Watch From The Pirates’ 2011 Draft

**Draft Prospect Watch: Stewart Homers Twice, Another Kingham To Watch In The Draft

  • pilbobuggins
    March 17, 2015 2:15 pm

    Ahh, it’s good to be a pirate! All the years of patience are paying off. Now we are just waiting to get the irca gold. (World series)

  • IMO, the best outfield is still in the possibility stage, depends on what constitutes best outfield, is it defense, hitting, speed, range, arms, power or a combo of all. IMO, it is the combo of all, having said this, I don’t who has the best outfield in baseball or who even has the possibilities of the best outfield in baseball.

  • I don’t really see the “Dream Rotation” coming to fruition. The Pirates still have young pitchers in the rotation now in Worley and Locke, that is two that can be here or a while. There is also the possibility of trades, if the PIrates are close this year, the trading deadline could mean at least one of these guys will be gone. Cole has not shown that he is better than Worley to this point, he certainly has a higher ceiling, but has not shown it yet. I also don’t put any of them in a 1-5 classification at this point, I am looking more for an ace, and Glasnow seems to be the only one with all the stuff to be an ace, the rest of them could fall anywhere. IMO, the Pirates are all 3’s now and with the exception of Glasnow, will probably stay that way for several more years. At this point the best ERA on the team last year is fighting for a 5th spot in the order with practically the same pitchers, go figure.

    • Scott Kliesen
      March 17, 2015 12:36 pm

      I don’t think the Pirates use ERA as the primary indicator for their Pitcher’s effectiveness. I’m pretty sure they use quite a few metrics, and I wouldn’t be surprised if ERA is one of them, but it would be contradictory in nature for a team thought to be on the cutting edge of analytics to site ERA as justification of a Pitcher’s place.

      Who outside the Pirates brass knows for sure if Worley is fighting for a spot in rotation. He very well could’ve been a lock before ST even began and they decided to not show their hand.

      • I am sure that they use a lot of Peripheral stats, I just used one to make a point and I do believe ERA should be the top stat to look at. Total analysis is not what I was doing. Huntington and Hurdle have both said Locke and Worley are fighting for the 5th spot in the rotation, the rest are locks.

        • Scott Kliesen
          March 17, 2015 12:57 pm

          I’m curious why you think ERA is better than FIP OR xFIP? Is it because of familiarity? Ease to calculate compared to the others? Very few consider it to be a better judge of ability than the two I mentioned.

          I know NH & CH both said there is a battle for 5th spot, but my point is they may not be forthcoming. Could be doing it to manufacture a competition?

          • “Better judge of ability”. ERA is the present, it supersedes ability, it is what you are doing now, it has nothing to do with regression, not what you are going to do in the future. Kershaw did not win the Cy Young on his xFIP, he won it on the old standard of his won/loss and his ERA. I have a lot of use for sabermetrics, especially what the Pirates use, but the old standards, BA,ERA,Won/Lost should not be discarded so easily.

        • ERA is more of a team stat but obviously the ability of the pitcher is a primary factor, still, that is the point of FIP and xFIP, to try and isolate the ability of the pitcher within ERA. You made a mistake in another post saying that FIP and xFIP are just predictions (not stats) as they are indeed stats, namely specific stats like home runs allowed, walks, hit by pitch and strikeouts.

      • pilbobuggins
        March 17, 2015 6:22 pm

        Good point

    • Tetrapharmakos
      March 17, 2015 12:36 pm

      “Cole has not shown that he is better than Worley to this point…”

      Really? Because Gerrit Cole had better season than Worley just last year by almost any measure. Higher WAR and WAR/200 IP, significantly better K%, better FIP, better xFIP…hell, he even had a better record 11-5 > 8-4. The only thing that Worely was better at was BB% and ERA, but that is to ignore the peripheral stats which suggest that Cole was in fact a better pitcher last year, let alone going forward.

      • “He had a better record”, he also pitched the whole year, Worely did not, Cole should have had a better record. FIP, xFIP are not stats, just predictions, WAR is a joke.
        Something that is not in stats, IMO, Cole gets hit harder, gets in more trouble for the most part than Worley, also, IMO, Worley runs out of gas faster than Cole and true, he does not have the upside of Cole.

        • The hottest of takes.

        • So you’re argument that Cole hasn’t shown to be as good as Worley involves throwing out all statistical analysis that doesn’t support your argument and relying on anecdotal evidence?

        • Tetrapharmakos
          March 17, 2015 2:08 pm

          1) Gerrit Cole starte 22 games last year. Vance Worley started 17, essentially meaning that Cole went 3-1 in those extra 5 starts. Or to put it another way, in addition to having more wins, Gerrit Cole also had a higher winning% and a lower losing% than Vance Worley.

          2) While FIP are xFIP are in fact better predictors of future ERA than past ERA, they are not predictions; they are simply an accounting of strikeouts, walks, and homeruns. They are stats in every sense of the word.

          3) Much like you failed to remember that Cole did not pitch a whole year last year (138 IP compared to Worely’s 110.2), your memory of Cole getting hit harder is equally false. Cole had a lower line drive% than Worely (19.0% 8.7%).

          I don’t know what else to tell you other than the notion that Cole has not shown that he is better than Worley is preposterous.

    • “Glasnow seems to be the only one with all the stuff to be an ace ” How so ? That’s quite a definitive statement at this stage of his career. He needs a third pitch, and he definitely need better command. So how can you say that ? Because he has had a lot of swing and miss on his fastball in A- and A+ ? It will take more than that even in AA.

      • He is developing a changeup. When I say stuff I am talking about the quality of his curve and fastball he does not need much more, in fact they have thoughts of even having him throw a two seamer. His growth process slowed him down a little with co-ordination, but he is overcoming that, he could use a little better command, I am confident that will come.

        • And just as I am confident that Cole will develop consistency. The point being, Cole is much further ahead in regards to development, and making a definitive statement such as the one you made is very premature, for lack of a better word. You can say the best outfield tag is just a “. possibility ” and then try to tell me that Glasnow is the only one who seems to have the stuff to be an ace ?

  • Its exciting to talk about the Pirates having the best outfield in MLB, but until Polanco actually proves himself I think the talk is very premature….

  • lonleylibertarian
    March 17, 2015 11:08 am

    I know Tim has been a huge fan of Polanco for years – but let’s get a solid year of 4 + WAR before we lay claim to the best outfield. As for pitching – tons of potential – but not sure I see a Kershaw/Baumgartner/Sale type ace – time will tell. Pirates need to win their division before the Cubs get their great young talent on the field.

    • Cutch+Marte+a warm body gets you a seriously talented OF, so idk why people struggle to see why adding a guy with Polanco talent to that mix makes some writers/fans/coaches salivate. Sure, Polanco aint proven in the bigs. But you look at his abilities, couple it with his minor league stuff, and it at least shows a guy capable of good stuff.

      Marlins can likely claim the best “proven” OF right now, but PIT has the best OF in terms of talent and upside.

      • lonleylibertarian
        March 17, 2015 8:27 pm

        Not to be a downer – but let’s get a full year of the dream outfield being both good and healthy and winning the division THEN i will be happy to consider the question of who has the best outfield and the best 2017 rotation

        • Not sure how winning the division is directly relevant to a discussion of the quality of the 3 OFers we employ. Cutch and Marte are also pretty healthy, if Marte at 135 games is the highly injured one thats solid overall.

          I dont see why a person cant look at the reality of the talent in the OF and predict them being the best in a few years, if not this year. If we cant do that before everyone is fully healthy and proven to a point where we cant question them and we win the division….we may be waiting most years.

          • lonleylibertarian
            March 17, 2015 10:25 pm

            Because Stanton is a stud I love Cutch but he is soon to the second best player in the NL – sorry – but the long ball rules and Stanton trumps Cutch in that category

            • If HRs are the deciding factor for you to judge the merit of a player, ill just simply not argue how 1990s “DINGERS” that sounds and say to each his own. Heck, i always admit i think overall Stanton and Cutch are close enough to consider it a draw in this debate, but not on the merits of what you argue. If HRs rule, Pedro is neato most years.

          • lonleylibertarian
            March 17, 2015 10:31 pm

            Because all that matters in the end are World Series wins – I could give a rats ass if the Pirates have the best total war for the outfield or the infield or an awesome pitching staff in 2017 – I want ONE MORE WORLD SERIES PENNANT OVER THE TRIANGLE BEFORE I DIE!!!!

  • Health permitted , the 2017 opening day rotation could be Cole,Glasnow,Taillon,Liriano,and Kingham. Sampson would be the next guy if something happens

  • I’ll put it this way the Pirates have a group of young high upside arm that rivals any potential young rotation in the game. They have as much chance as any.Also, we cannot forget that the Pirates seem to have had more success than any team over the last few year at getting the most out of their pitching because of the work of Jim Benedict and Ray Searage

  • I’ll back that assessment of the outfield easily, but pitching? That’s tough.

    So, so much good pitching around the league right now that I doubt that dream Pirates rotation even breaks Top 5.

    You look at what the Dodgers and Nats have been able to do with money. You look at the incredible rotation the Indians have put together, with no starter making even $5m this year. The ridiculous arms the Mets have in the show and on the way.

    I don’t see the Pirates touching any of those, at least.

    • Your points are all well taken, and pitching can be fleeting and fragile, as the Mets, Blue Jays, and Rangers will tell you. Still, there’s no denying that the so-called “dream rotation” the Bucs could put together would be, if everything broke right (or didn’t break, as the case may be), a pretty nasty group.

      • Absolutely, and considering the likelihood of at least enough free agent budget to bring in one Liriano-type arm they could certainly be the top rotation in the Division.

        Massive improvement over the Taillon-Heredia-Allie Dream Rotation early in the Huntington era.

    • Its called dream for a reason. To be the best, everyone would have to reach their upside. Cole, Taillon, and Glasnow all have top of the rotation stuff, and Kingham has touched 98 and has some of the best control in the system. Add in any breakout pitcher/Liriano and in 2017 that rotation could all have some experience and a great offense still to back it.

  • This will be my first year back in the burgh since 2005. I can not wait for the regular season to begin and get to some games. Picked a perfect time to move back.

  • As much as I’m looking forward to a rotation including Taillon, Glasnow and Kingham with Cole and whoever else (Liriano I presume) in a few years, I don’t know if I could say the Pirates will have one of the best rotations. I think it will be a good one, and that combined with the best outfield, pretty good infield and bullpen should be good enough to win a World Series (which would be awesome considering I was born in ’82 and have never experienced a WS win).

  • Lee Foo Young
    March 17, 2015 8:36 am

    I noted that article on the PBC Asylum yesterday. That was really outstanding and heady stuff.

    And, wouldn’t it be nice if that rotation happened, too?

  • First, Happy St. Patrick’s day to all. I made the rounds in Savannah and Hilton Head over the weekend and got in a round of golf at a Pete Dye-designed course. Glad to see the Pirates did well.

    The Pirates OF is as strong as any in baseball right now, and still has room to grow. It looks like a tight race between 2 or 3 guys for the Utility OF spot/LH Bench. The pitching Rotation is a work in progress with only one guy, Gerrit Cole, who has successfully managed to climb his way into one of the Top 3 Rotation slots. IMO, Nick Kingham, will be the next guy to step up in 2015. The Pirates only have one guy (AJ Burnett) “scheduled” to leave the Rotation after 2015. If Taillon and Glasnow avoid any setbacks & come on as hard as they are capable of doing, we may experience an embarrassment of riches that will put a lot of MLB-Quality SP’s on the trading block. A very nice problem to have. It also looks like the Pirates got a sleeper in Arquimedes Caminero in the bullpen. Bastardo is struggling, but I think he is just showing the results of trying to learn a new routine.

  • Scott Kliesen
    March 17, 2015 5:41 am

    Hard not to be overconfident about the future of this organization right now. Sure hope the players aren’t reading these articles and letting it get to their heads. They need to stay hungry, be in the moment and keep scratching and clawing like their lives depend on it for these predictions to come to fruition.

  • I’m excited, obviously, for what those guys could be, but I’m cautious about that excitement. Cole is the real deal, he’s already proven that, but Glasnow is an injury away from being off track or a bust altogether, it’s still unsure how well Taillon will come back from his TJ, Kingham had a hiccup last year, and Sampson needs to have a lot go right to be a Major League contributor.

    I think we have enough depth of prospects to have a very good rotation, sure, but we need all four to work out, and Liriano to still be here and pitching well, to really lay claim to best rotation, especially with Washington and Los Angeles employing their collections of aces.

    • Grey area on much of the characterization of those guys either way (i think much of what you said is somewhat fair) but i dont see “Sampson needs to have a lot fo right to be a ML contributor”. Already in AAA at a young age, so not pressing for time. Needs to continue with consistency in some areas, particularly ensure his BB/9 stays decent.

      Not saying he can be a huge part of a future rotation, but even with a bit of normal regression from last years AA numbers, he is certainly an option for back end work in a year or two. I see it as more of Sampson possibly being the odd man out of a stacked rotation if Cole-Taillon-Kingham-Glasnow all work out to being some type of ML pitcher in 1-3 years. That really doesnt leave a ton of room lol. With a decent year in AAA though, Sampson can be a needed depth option once AJ leaves. Takes 7-9 guys contributing most years.

      • Even close, I don’t know that he has the pedigree to be counted on as a sure contributor. I’m sure he’ll get Major League innings, but I don’t even see Glasnow as a huge sure thing. No pitching prospect is. And if Glasnow is the most talented of them, then I would put each of the next guys down the list at a smaller chance to be a solid Major League pitcher.

        Where Glasnow is now, he’s probably a 65% chance of being a successful Major League pitcher. Taillon, coming off surgery, probably sits closer to 50%. I think Kingham is a big drop from him, so I’ll estimate 30%, and Sampson would be below him, somewhere around 20%.

        But I might still be overly cautious due to so many failures under previous regimes. I’m still in the “something’s going to go horribly wrong soon” mindset. I trust our scouts and coaches and management, but I still don’t trust our luck.

        • Those numbers are rediculous fictional conclusions that have no substance. There is no history that applies to the future of these kids. If the system has properly prepared them, and they have the talent they can all be successful.
          If anything is likely it’s that the term successful will be applied to immediate results rather than to the natural progression of each pitcher independently. Will the team have the patience to allow each of these guys to grow in their own time? Think of the patience it’s taken with Charlie Morton, this could easily be Sampson. Even Cole is three years in and we haven’t seen his best, so it may be awhile before these young guys reach their best.
          Not every guy can be a Michael Wacha or Matt Shoemaker – but if I had to put a guess on it, I’d put Taillon as that guy of the group who is most prepared with the best stuff.

          • would you be happy with Charlie Morton success ?
            I am not certain I would be happy with that being the floor of any of them.

            • Tetrapharmakos
              March 17, 2015 10:52 am

              “Would you be happy with Charlie Morton success?”

              Well, 1) the point wasn’t about the results, it was about approach in which case: yes, I’d be happy with the Chalie Morton approach . 2) Over the last 2 seasons Charlie Morton has been a 1.9 WAR player on a per 200 IP basis. That is roughly equivalent to the seasons that Kyle Lohse, Jake Peavey and Mike Leake put up last season, so assuming we are talking anyone not named Cole, Taillon or Glasnow, then yes I’d be quite happy with that. And frankly I’d settle for one of the above three turning into a 2 WAR pitcher if it meant the other two achieved something approaching their upside.

        • I would say those percentages are correct if you are talking about reaching their upside. Kingham 30% chance of major league success, come on.

        • Darkstone is exactly right about the pitching. Sure there are a lot of promise there but the odds of all those guys working out is less than 2%. If you’re simply talking about Glasnow and Taillon ending up as #1 and #2 starters the chances of that happening is probably 25-30%. I’d be happy if one of them turns out to be TOR pitcher quite frankly. Look around the league, you think the Mets don’t think they are set up even with the Wheeler TJ. Syndegaard, Matz to throw in in with Harvey, Degrom and Wheeler. A lot of people think Urias might be best minor league pitcher out there who Dodger fans are projecting to join a rotation with Kershaw locked up at the top. A lot of good pitching in the minors, a lot can happen before that production translates to the major leagues whether it be injury, inability to adjust etc.

          • Yeah, I guess I should emphasize my context here to this end. In the original comment, I was talking about how low the odds are for us to take over the “best rotation” title. The Dodgers and Nationals have great rotations already. The Mets, as you indicated, have a few guys who have had Major League success and a few more close with upside, but they’re getting the injury bug right now. If the Pirates want to lay claim to “best,” all four guys who have yet to debut not only need to become Major League contributors, they have to reach their upsides. The chances of that are very low.

            I do think enough of them will work out well enough, though, for us to have a good, competitive rotation, I’m just not willing to hang my hat on “best.”

        • Those success rates are way too high or either you have a very low bar of what major league success equals.

          • Reeeediculous.

          • If all 3 guys only end up being 1 WAR guys, they are all “successes” and yet all will have not lived up to expectations. Unless success is only gained by those who are upper rotation arms. If only 1 of those arms reaches near his potential, and the other two are just useable arms, all 3 are success in the scheme of making it to the bigs.

            • That is what I was questioning, at the level of averaging 1.5 WAR per year over their cost controlled years, even pitching prospect ranked 1-10 overall don’t have 50% success rates.

              Getting the majors is a very low bar, especially for a player drafted 1-2. The Pirates have spent significant resources on pitching prospects. Some of these prospects are going to need to produce returns, because the Pirates used those resources stating that they couldn’t afford top of the line pitching in free agency.

              • No, getting to the majors isnt a low bar statistically. To act like a 1st round pick has to be a 2 WAR player or he isnt successful just isnt looking at the rate of failure for players. If PIT drafts 3 SP in the first round, and each makes it to the majors and is more than replacement level or similar, its a success. Sure, the team then has a lack of TOR arms, but it drafted well enough to fill out most of its rotation.

                A rotation of Cole-Taillon-Kingham-Glasnow-Sampson where the middle three are 1-2ish WAR players and Cole is TOR but not ace like is a win for PIT. Not a leagues best rotation, but quality. How one measures success can be varied, but for high school kids getting to the majors is a win for the team. Getting 1+ WAR is success.

                • Assuming 4 WAR for Cole, a 7-10 WAR rotation is below average, to be successful you better couple that with the best offense in the league.

                  What is the goal, to draft players in order for them to get a cup of coffee or to draft to build a successful team? I’m going with the later thus the higher bar. And again no team is drafting a high school pitcher at 1-2 and hoping for +1 WAR, if that is what they were projecting they would draft someone else.

                  • Now you are changing the nature of the argument saying you want a “higher bar”. We all do, but that isnt the same as what “success” is. I didnt say a cup of coffee, i said 3 guys that are at least 1-2 WAR guys are successes. Aces? no. All stars? no. But they are successful. No team drafts a player hoping for anything but the best case scenario, but no team also goes “well we missed on him” if he spends multiple years in the ML rotation giving you average or better production.

                    I hope they all become aces, but i wont think any of them werent successful if they “only” all make it to the bigs and are considered mid rotation arms.

        • No prospect is a sure thing, but that is the most tired rhetoric out there. Stats show neither is a 31 year old with a “proven” track record. No player is a sure thing, but there are clearly guys who have the talent level that puts them closer to the “he is going to play in the bigs at some point” area than others.

          I totally disagree with your 2nd paragraph completely in terms of how likely it is those guys will be “successful’ ML pitchers. Unless you mean reaching their ceiling, i think Taillon is way higher than 50/50 right now and the rest are undersold. Something went bad with Taillon and he still is going to spend some time with the big league team barring a small degree of “he cant pitch after TJ”.

    • Lee Foo Young
      March 17, 2015 8:37 am

      EVERY pitcher is an injury away from becoming off track or a bust.

      That’s why you draft lots and lots and lots and lots of pitchers.

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