A few weeks ago I wrote about how Gregory Polanco is the key to the offense for the 2016 season. The main point of the article was that the Pirates were expected to see an offensive downgrade at first and second base with the departures of Pedro Alvarez and Neil Walker, and that improvement from Polanco (which was seen in the second half) would help to off-set that. Add in the improved defense in the infield, and the Pirates could be a better team if Polanco’s second half improvements are for real.

The Pirates were already going with Josh Harrison at second base at the time of the article, but one thing that was missing was the first base position. That has now been filled with the addition of John Jaso, giving the Pirates their left-handed hitting first baseman to pair with either Michael Morse or Jason Rogers. I wanted to revisit that article again, just to get an updated total of where the offensive comparison stands.

Last time around, I used wOBA and projected plate appearances to get a wRC total. I’ll do the same this time around.

The projections for Walker and Alvarez (using their 2015 seasons) remain the same. Alvarez had a .333 wOBA in 491 plate appearances. Walker was at a .325 wOBA in 603 plate appearances. Combined, their numbers amounted to 133.75 wRC.

I went a simple way with Jaso and Harrison. I gave them the same playing time as above, and used their 2015 wOBA figures, with the exception of Jaso. I used his career totals, since his 2015 figures were inflated beyond the career numbers. The result was a .313 wOBA from Harrison and a .342 wOBA from Jaso. And that combined for a 131.59 wRC. Basically about the same as Walker and Alvarez, with very little improved production needed from Polanco to make up for the difference.

There are some disclaimers here. First of all, Harrison has never gone beyond 550 plate appearances in a season, so chalking him up for 603 in 2016 doesn’t seem realistic. That said, his 2015 wOBA is actually ten points lower than his career figures, so that might off-set the playing time. You don’t see much of a drop at all using 550 plate appearances and his career figures.

Then there’s the fact that Jaso has never received just shy of 500 plate appearances in his MLB career. The closest he came was in 2010 with 404. His injury history has prevented the extra playing time, along with his work behind the plate. That could all change with his move to first base. The injury history, lack of individual season playing time, and the high offense kind of remind me of Francisco Cervelli last year. The biggest question here is can he stay healthy, and can he keep the offensive production up over a full season as a starter. First base should help with the health.

Finally, there’s the issue of the bench production. In the Walker/Alvarez comparison, Harrison would be a utility player on the bench. The only known utility player the Pirates have right now is Sean Rodriguez. But I don’t think Harrison is being replaced by Rodriguez. The Pirates had Rodriguez last year, and always had a better utility guy in addition to him. I could see Jason Rogers filling that role, or maybe Alen Hanson if they want someone else who can play the middle infield spots. In either case, I think the player can replicate Harrison’s numbers off the bench, at least to the point where Polanco could easily make up the difference.

As for Polanco making up the difference, I covered why I think he’ll break out in the last article. I don’t know if we’ll see Andrew McCutchen/Starling Marte numbers from him next year, but he only needs a slight improvement at this point to help upgrade the entire team offensively.

The Pirates don’t have the power that they saw with Alvarez and Walker. In place of that lost power, they see a massive spike in OBP, along with better defense (Jaso is far from guaranteed to be a good defender, but I like the track record and the idea of moving a former catcher to first base).

Looking at the numbers right now, the Pirates look like they could have a better offense on paper with their current team than with Walker and Alvarez. The one final disclaimer I will bring up is that the new team is favorably compared in large part due to John Jaso, who will be in a platoon role. We’ve seen a lot of cases the last few years where the Pirates had MVP production from their platoon guys on paper, based on the career numbers, only to see one or both players fail to live up to those numbers. It has worked in some cases, and you hope that Jaso will be one of those cases. But for whatever reason, a platoon doesn’t always work out in reality as well as it does on paper, and that’s something to consider here (although Alvarez and Walker were both being used in platoons, so they’d be subject to the same uncertainty).

The biggest question mark after Alvarez and Walker left was the offense. That appears to have been fixed, although with a much different offensive approach than the Pirates had last year. And the best part is that they’ve got this new offense with just a $95 M payroll, leaving room for a starting pitching upgrade to the rotation, which is needed since Ryan Vogelsong doesn’t look like a guy you want in the current rotation.

**Only One Day Remaining to Get Your Last Minute Gift Subscriptions. If you enjoy the site content, consider giving a site subscription to a friend or a family member. You get a custom gift card to give them, and they’ll now know what you’re talking about when you’re referencing all of the players coming up through the system. It’s the perfect last-minute gift for any hardcore Pirates fan.

**Pirates Sign John Jaso to Two-Year Contract. Full analysis of the move here.

**Clario Perez Suspended 80 Games. The Pirates brought him back as a minor league free agent this year to pitch out of the Double-A bullpen, but it doesn’t appear he will be doing much of that for the first half of the year.

**Pirates Claim Yoervis Medina Off Waivers, LaFromboise Claimed by the Angels. The other transactions of the day, with a very interesting bullpen arm added. Full analysis in the link.

**Winter Leagues: Elias Diaz Shines on Defense While Struggling at the Plate

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148 COMMENTS

  1. Things just got worse for Neil Walker. He gets traded to a world series team, but one problem as he was brought in to keep the seat warm for Dilson Herrera who will be at their AAA team this year. DH is the Mets future 2nd baseman not NW and it was the Pirates that traded Dilson to the Mets. The Mets unloaded Murphy their 2nd baseman because of errors and shoddy baserunning. This story was up on MSN’s web page on Christmas Day but it was down today [26th.] as I was going to try and link the story.

    • Yes but I do not think Walker is in their long-term plans anyway. He will be a FA next year so I think him being a Met in 2017 IS REMOTE. He may even come back here if he has an average year as a super utility guy. I believe that was the plan with him all along.

  2. From a power and run production standpoint, Harrison and Jaso/Rogers will not match what Alvarez and Walker provided. From an onbase percentage and lower strikeouts basis, I do see where there will likely be an improvement there. How all that translates to runs being scored and ultimately wins, time will tell. Again, my bigger concern is we didn’t improve defensively, at least not significantly. That is disappointing given how our defense cost the team so much last year.

    • I would agree with you but getting on base is a major part of run production. It will be interesting to see if they add another 2b/3b type or go with what they have. I like what they have but part of me feels like they could use another vet to come in and compete.

  3. I would argue that Kang is even more important to the Pirates’ offense. If Kang doesn’t hit like last year and with him playing mostly 3B and not SS/Util he won’t give the Pirates nearly the advantage he did in 2015. Still, Polanco needs to reach the next level and go from solid player to impact player.

  4. No guarantee a catcher can make the transition. Does anyone remember Ryan Doumit. I hope he can. I feel the the key to the season is can Bell, Glasnow & Taillon hit the ground running when they are called up. I know it’s an unpopular route to take, but to have impact players it’s the only route Pittsburgh can take. It can happen, just look at the Cubs last year.

    • Doumit was a disaster at 1B. They tried him at rf too. I was at one of the few games they tried him out there and of course he got hurt. I’m pretty sure that game was Barry bonds’ last game in pittsburgh. I also got to meet manny sanguilen in the RF bleacher section. A lot going on that day.

        • Jaso seems like is a decent baserunner. 15-20 career sb%, high doubles, decent amount of triples for a guy that has been a catcher a lot. He’s definitely not a station to station guy.

        • Tim, I was trying to go easy on him. I’ve never seen a catcher get hit in the head more than him. It’s like he was a magnet for a foul off of his mask.

        • Is Doumit retired or was he hurt last year? He seems too young to be done. He surely could still get a AAA job with hopes for another shot as a DH. He was a pretty good hitter for most of his career.

  5. Who do you like in the cleanup role at this moment? Marte? Kang eventually? The rotation is more a concern than the lineup..but interested in everyone’s thoughts.
    Greg
    Harrison
    Cutch
    Kang
    Marte
    Cervelli
    1B
    Mercer

  6. I admit I mocked the idea of Jaso before the signing but hat tip to those on this board who championed it. Jaso is a perfect comp to Scott Hatteberg, who came to the A’s as a beat up C with a great eye and no D position. If this move works out as well as Hatteberg and Jaso can earn 400+ PAs in 2016 this lineup is in fact better than last year. The sure thing is that Pedro couldn’t play 1B and Walker is declining. Curious to see if Morse now becomes a trade chip for a lefty RP or if Rodgers is now seen as a possible 3B till Kang comes back.

    As for all the Niese doubters I have to axe: Last July would you have rather the Pirates traded for Niese or Happ? I barfed when I heard that trade (why not Worley?) and think Niese would have been sooooo much better.

    • I’m also not seeing the payroll to bring in a starter at this point.

      You know they’re not going to spend every last dime before opening day, and their bench and bullpen is still terribly shallow. Those aren’t trivial holes to fill with roughly $5m or so left in a hundred million dollar payroll.

      • They said their OD expectation was about 10 million more than currently, which isnt the same as saying their total is 10 million more for the year.

        Seems like they have room for a Latos-like deal at most. They’d fill the bullpen with what they have and cheap options (bench as well).

        I dont see the bullpen as shallow at all. I see it as currently shallow on names people feel great with. But you quickly start filling up spots with names. Melancon-Watson-Caminero-Hughes-Nicasio-Medina.

        Seems like we are 1 arm and 1 bench option away from the team potentially feeling fine. So i think they could throw the remaining money at a Latos guy, or find a more expensive bench option and not a 8-10 million arm.

        I dont think Latos is gonna happen, but for reasons outside of his price tag.

        • When is “currently”? I’ve read their payroll target was around $105m, and they always leave at least $5m for in-season additions.

          As for the pen, Medina sucked so people *shouldn’t* feel great about his “name”, and they don’t even have the last spot filled. Highly, highly optimistic to *expect* sustained performances without breaking from the top four *plus* improvements from the bottom three. That won’t happen. Without any sort of AAA depth ready to fill in, that’s a shallow pen by 2016 standards.

          The pen absolutely *could* be very good, and I’ve said as much many times this winter, but the loss of Webster is big. As we sit here today, the pen needs considerable work.

          • So basically, dont expect anyone without sustained success to be good.

            Same story, different year of hearing that and seeing the bullpen be fine. We’d have fine AAA depth with that bullpen, and months to throw a few NRIs in to supplement AAA depth.

            The pen needs work unless we assume some of those sucky terrible no good guys like Medina are fine mid relief arms thanks to better control from Searage. Not a big leap from me to say i think Searage can make a guy with good stuff and poor control okay mid relief depth. Give me Melancon-Watson-Caminero-Hughes with 1-2 high upside arms and i have no issue with the pen. Hating the bullpen is a tradition at this point of every offseason.

            • It’s almost like you’ve completely forgotten that this club, Searage and all, has needed multiple mid-season bullpens additions each of the last two years.

              And all you can do is throw out strawmen as a response to me having the audacity to question whether or not a pen that *isn’t even currently full* is deep enough to cover a low-inning rotation?

              Whatever helps you sleep at night, man.

        • Also is a reflection of their rotation quality, or lack there of.

          3/5 of their starters cannot be expected to go 6 quality innings right now. That’ll turn out to be a huge strain on the pen and inevitably require more than seven quality arms.

          • Surely could, but the same thing was bemoaned about the rotation to start last year. AJ was over the hill and more of a back end arm, and we couldnt win with Locke and Morton.

            Still not ideal, but as is i think the rotation can do enough to keep us in games. Vogelsong hopefully just faking it until June.

            • Not sure where you’re getting your narratives, but I mostly remember plenty of talk about how the Pirates got a steal in getting Burnett back at only $8.5m, Morton coming off a 3.72 ERA / 3.72 FIP / 3.78 xFIP return from TJS, and two quality back end guys in Locke & Worley battling for the 5th spot.

      • I don’t see the rotation being addressed with Melancon on the payroll. He goes and everyone in the BP takes one step forward, Then you’ve got his $10M plus another $5-10 to reinvest into acquiring a decent starter and backfilling the bullpen with a 2-3 arms.

        It’s a roll of the dice. What’s of more value to the team? A better SP whose only going to pitch every five days starting in place of Vogelsong or Locke and a couple of legitimate arms in the BP…or an extremely reliable closer?

        I’ve gotta lean toward the former. Whatever can be got for Melancon is going to be inversely related to how close the return is to contributing at the major league level…so, get a really good A-baller…or a major-league ready low-ceiling player or two and move on. Having someone as dependable as Melancon has been great, but a team held together with spit and duct tape really can’t afford to have 10% of its payroll going to a closer.

        • The million dollar question…

          If you could guarantee the same WPA from Melancon and Watson from the past two years, I keep Melancon with no questions asked…but what’s that likelihood given what we always say about reliever volatility? 50%? Less?

          I really don’t have an answer for you here, given the current state of decision making that has the team where we stand today. I’m not confident that the offense will be potent enough to make up for your #3-#5 starters giving up 3+ runs an outing, and I don’t think the bullpen is deep enough to pull those guys before giving up that many. Using Melancon’s payroll for a starter helps the former but hurts the latter.

          • It’s going to be a tough call, but with payroll already sitting at $94.5 with Locke and Vogelsong in the rotation…

            Not gonna lie…that scares me.

            I assume what’s going to happen is Latos-type for about $8M and add one BP arm and they’ll be at $105M with either Locke or Vogelsong being pushed to longman in the bullpen.

            I’m still not feeling all that much better if that’s the case. Niese should be alright, but then you’ve got a rebuild, and either L or V. One early season injury to the top three or if Niese or the rebuild doesn’t work out and it’s back to having the non-dynamic duo in the rotation.

            The back end of this staff has the potential to be absolutely disastrous…until it’s turned over to a couple of guys with zero ML experience, that is.

        • I will say that I’d be a hell of a lot more comfortable taking the $5m or so owed to Vogelsong/Rodriguez and getting halfway or more to one true quality reclamation starter.

          Still can’t believe they didn’t offer Cahill enough to pull him away from the Cubs $4m offer to be a reliever. Bud Norris even signed for as much as Vogelsong.

          • I’m mostly in agreement. The Vogelsong money could’ve been much better spent. S-Rod was a lousy pickup. Yeah, he got the going rate for someone who does what he does…and the Pirates need that role filled…but they could’ve gotten someone more talented for the same money. So, I don’t see his salary as being a bad expenditure…I do see him being a poor use of the funds.

  7. It will be interesting to see what the lineups look like in 2016. Clint seems to have really favored speed at the top of the order before, wonder if the new emphasis on OBP by the FO translates to a new lineup philosophy.

    • Do you see Marte at #4 before Kang returns?

      As in
      Polonco
      Harrison (3rd or 2nd)
      Cutch
      Marte?
      1st base?
      Cervelli?
      Mercer
      3rd or 2nd base
      Pitcher

        • I will bet you my savings account Kang doesnt start his year hitting 6th against RHP. Even if they somehow do want to force Marte at the 4 (which is weird since he’s as much a GB hitter as a power option) they wont throw Polanco ahead of Kang.

  8. Merry Christmas to everyone on here. Between here and the PBC Asylum, I get good info, good links and good conversation.

    And Merry Christmas to you too, Mr Cleaver!!!!

  9. I have to admit that I was getting pretty pessimistic with our off season, (despite how well we’ve done in offseasons past), but this signing REALLY cheered me up.

    We still need:
    #3 starter (to replace RV or Jeff)
    RH reliever
    LH reliever.

    Latos, Blanton, Bastardo?

    • The reliever issue could be half-corrected by getting another starter. I think Locke would be a good bullpen lefty. RV would also probably be useful out of the ‘pen. Move one of those two to the bullepen, and then we only need one more reliever.

      • Locke doesn’t have enough command for me to be a bullpen lefty.
        Walks not good in short stints. And Locke has trouble with throwing strikes.

        • Agreed. Feels like he would throw gasoline on a fire. Then only thing I could think of that would be beneficial would be an uptick in velocity. Couple times last year he ran it up to a surprising 93-94 I thought.

          • One would think uptick in velo to mid 90s also means he attacks a bit more, along with focusing on GBs over 1 inning.

            He’d be a fungible middle relief option like Bastardo. At least for this year.

        • Bullpen is *where* guys without great command go to salvage their careers.

          Jeff Locke’s command is light years better than Antonio Bastardo, a lefty reliever who just priced himself out of the Pirates market. If Locke’s stuff were able to play up as a strikeout per inning guy he’d be a fine reliever.

  10. I agree that Polanco needs to hit better but there are others in the infield that the same goes for. JHay at second has to step it up as does Kang who has to be over the effects of his injury and pick up where he left off in the avg. and power departments. I was impressed with his power last year and he looks like a real gem that fits nicely with the OFers and the catchers.

  11. “I could see Jason Rogers filling that role, or maybe Alen Hanson if they want someone else who can play the middle infield spots. In either case, I think the player can replicate Harrison’s numbers off the bench, at least to the point where Polanco could easily make up the difference.”

    No. What I don’t like about all these projections, is that you’re assuming some of these players will be perform well with irregular playing time. And that’s before a single injury or Jordy Mercer 2 month slump.

    • Yeah, it’s *incredibly* optimistic to believe that *both* Harrison can replace Walker and Rogers/Hanson/Rodriguez can replace Harrison. You have to seriously, seriously tease what you want out of stats to make yourself believe that will happen.

    • For one, Jason Rogers is a first baseman. Nobody should want to see him playing 20+ games in the outfield or third base. If he gets even half the at bats Harrison was projected to receive as a super utility player, it’ll be because he took over the short side of the 1B platoon.

      And the thing about that rookie season Rogers posted last year…

      April-August: 117 PA, .280 BABIP, 81 wRC+
      September: 52 PA, .563 BABIP, 210 wRC+

      Second, they should expect significant regression from Cervelli and possibly a bit from Kang as well. I could see Kang’s power output making up for BABIP regression, but so much of Cervelli’s offense was high BABIP without the raw power to potentially make up for that coming back down to earth.

      This team will win by run prevention. They shouldn’t count on the offense matching what they did last year, let alone make up for the loss of about 6 WAR from the pitching staff.

        • To be fair, Rogers projects to be a roughly league average hitter by Steamer and ZiPS, which is good for a bench bat. But so does Andrew Lambo, fwiw.

          I’ve wondered in the past if the statistical projections have a blind spot for the AAAA hitters; guys who mash in the minors but can’t quite get that to translate at the highest level.

          Not saying Rogers is definitely that, but there’s absolutely the possibility.

            • If Marte and Polanco figured out how to stop hitting so many groundballs and tapped into their raw power I would absolutely agree. Harrison is maxed out as roughly his current projection, IMO. He’s never going to walk, and I don’t see much evidence that the power blip in 2014 was anything but.

              • Agree on Polanco, as Marte produces better than average quality of contact I’m not sure you want him trading contact for power considering that and that he plays half his games in PNC. Harrison’s projections have him being a little better than 2015.

              • Polanco especially should be hitting ground balls- he is a leadoff hitter and needs to use his speed. I’m pretty sure Marte also led or was close to leading the major leagues in infield hits. Not really a recipe for success if you ask me by asking him to hit more fly balls, he isn’t Pedro Alvarez. Harrison just needs to hit doubles, he has more power than Freddy Sanchez, and Freddy was a doubles machine. Power in terms of homers yes- but this team shouldn’t be trying to hit homers, they should be using their speed, running bases well, STEALING bases, and making productive outs while limiting strikeouts. That is how they win.

                • Polanco doesn’t need to fit any certain narrative, he needs to be a more productive hitter.

                  Look at what he’s done as a pro: walk at a league average rate, make contact at a league average rate, turn contact into hits at a league average rate…and yet he’s still a below average hitter. Why? Power production, or lack there of.

                  There’s simply no way he takes the next step without hitting for more power, and there’s no way to hit for more power without hitting less ground balls.

                  As for Marte, the best half of baseball in his Major League career was the 2nd half of 2014, which also coincided with his *highest* fly ball rate. The trade off between contact and more valuable contact is worthwhile for guys with better than average raw power, which Marte and Polanco both have.

                  • Polanco’s problem especially through the all-star break was the amount he was turning over and hitting weak ground balls to 1st and 2nd base. If he was hitting those same calls to shortstop or third, he would have likely gotten 10-15% of them to be hits…..He doesn’t do a good job at using his speed to his advantage- the last thing we want him doing is trying to pull the ball more to generate more power, It would only make this problem worse. He also needs to work on bunting until he collapses from exhaustion

                    • If you want him to generate more power, short of us finding a swing guru, he is going to swing harder and hit more weak useless ground balls. I’m not saying it should be that way, but that’s what will happen, it’s what ALWAYS happens when young players try to hit for power

                • I could not have been the only one watching them strand runners at times last year. And I hear what Luke wrote about RISP the other day, but man alive no Pedro, Walker or ARam is gonna hurt somewhere along the line.

                  • Ironically Pedro actually kinda sucked with RISP. We are replacing .225 average with 49 RBIs in 146 plate appearances there. Quick glance at Jaso the last few years suggests we are likely to see better RISP performance from what we got last year at 1B.

                    2B is the big spot we’ll see something at. Walker and Harrison both were solid with RISP, with Walker hitting in a spot better suited for opportunities generally.

                    In terms of lineup construction, seems like Jaso will be hitting in a spot to have solid RISP chances. Which is neat since he’s a solid hitter.

                  • well Aram was fantastic about getting a runner in by sarcraficing an out to get it done. I hope others took notes because that is what this team needs to do to be successful

                    • Percentage of PA’s with less than two outs and a runner on third that ended with runner scoring in 2015:

                      Ramirez: 55%
                      Cutch: 50%
                      Harrison: 47%
                      Cervelli: 44%

                      ALVAREZ: 56%

                      So much for that narrative.

                    • right, exactly what I was saying….Ramirez did a great job of getting runners in- thanks for digging up the actual stat for me.

                    • Cool stat- I was focusing more specifically on the % that he scored runners from 3rd with less than 2 outs. The only problem with ARAM was that if there was a runner on 1st, he had about equal chance of grounding into an inning ending double play

                • Ah, for another Freddy Sanchez type. He was a doubles machine.

                  As for stealing bases, this team is not constructed to do mucch of that. Polanco and Marte, sure. Harrison somewhat. Cutch not much any more.

                  This team makes more baserunning gaffes than any other team IMO.

                  • How often do you watch the 29 other teams? A lot of people nitpick on the Pirates baserunning gaffes because they watch them everyday.

                    Other teams make baserunning mistakes just as much as the PBC does

                  • Cutch when healthy- should be forced to steal 20+bases or be moved to #4. #3 is not a place in your lineup which should be void of stolen bases IMO. Harrison is not a good base stealer, but he’s aggressive and we need that, so I’m fine with it. Baserunning mental errors are not acceptable- 2 all year is too many. Getting out because you are making the defense make a play on you to get you out, I’m fine with unless its just an idiotic situation (attempt to score on a short sac fly down one run in the 9th with noone out for example) Marte and Polanco should steal over 30 bases every year and honestly one of them should have 40+. Harrison should have between 10-20 and Hanson, in half a season whould also steal at least ten. If Cutch steals 10 and the rest of the team only gets 10 total between them, we are over 100 for the team……..no excuse for less

      • Rogers : 52 PAs = extremely SSS. In other matters though : the Cubs will not only show any regression, but are just going to keep improving linearly, because, after all, you know, uhh Joe Maddon ? I’m not buying.

        • What in the world does that have to do with this conversation, firs of all. And second, I don’t even believe that to be true.

          • Oh, excuse me. I can’t comment on the Central Division here ?? Sorry, I thought this was a site regarding the Pirates and their opponents. I just randomly addressed it to you, but since you seem to have become the resident critic of NH, are you getting a little sensitive to any perceived criticism ? But,let me certainly reassure you, I won’t let it happen again.

      • Regression is an esoteric observation that does not take into account who will bat in front of you and behind you. Your point is well taken but makeup of the lineup is a critical unknown.

      • idk. Seems like the first part of those splits for Rogers are slightly depressed. I’d guess his true production exists somewhere in the middle. I’d like to think he finds some positive growth as he gets accustomed to the big leagues as well.

      • The Rogers BABIP #’s are crazy. However, I don’t view .300 BABIP as a be all end all for expectations. First off, there’s a variable of luck involved that averages out over time, but has wild swings similar to the one you sited w Rogers. Secondly, some players have better bat control and/or faster from home to first, and they will have a better BABIP consistently.

        One would expect Cervelli and Kang to regress, but lady luck may say otherwise.

        • .300 is far from a hard and fast number for me as well, but I do think there are very, verrryyy few guys out there who can expect to parlay contact quality and speed into a sustainable BABIP above .330 or so. I get squeamish when a guy puts up a good season outside that band, particularly if it doesn’t come with walks or a bunch of power. Hard to make up for BABIP regression without either of those.

          Maybe this is “old school” but what concerned me more than BABIP with Rogers was timing. Many, many players have been September superstars once teams fall out of races and callups starts logging innings on the mound. Not completely fair to call Rogers one of those guys yet, but the difference was drastic enough to raise a flag.

  12. Lots of catchers dabble at first base. Posey, Lucroy, Alex Avila, Tyler Flowers, Grandal, Iannetta, Caleb Joseph, Erik Kratz, Martin Maldonado, Brian McCann, Sal Perez, and others played there last year. They tend to have lousy range and very low error rates (Posey played over 300 innings there last year without an error).

    And Mike Napoli, Victor Martinez, and Carlos Santana all call 1B their primary defensive position now after breaking in to the majors as catchers. Napoli (and Posey) are very good defensive first basemen.

    I am pretty sure that Jaso could have gotten a little more money as a DH, but I suspect he wanted a chance to play 1B semi-regularly for a couple of years in the hopes of having a big payday afterwards if the position switch went well. This move (like Kang last year) is one of those moves that has the potential for a very big payoff.

  13. Besides the improvement Pirates should expect from Polanco to help bridge the gap created in offense by subtracting Walker and Alvarez, is the drastic improvement we can hope to see from Cutch in April/May.

    Granted Cutch is a traditionally slow starter, but last year he was horrible. I personally think he was injured more than he let on. Furthermore, his knee injury caused him to not pressure the other team with his ability to steal bases throughout the whole season, too.

    I’m optimistic Cutch is going to be improved in 2016 and be at least as big a reason for Pirates offense being better in ’16 than ’15.

      • Side observation, has anyone notice that nearly every HR Marte hits is on a hanger. The power is there for 30, but I doubt he ever gets there.

      • a season? probably, but that’s not what he is. I think he should be an annual member of the 20/20 club, unfortunately it might not be until 2017 or beyond that he reaches that point

        • I don’t think we’ve seen what he is yet. If he can reduce that GB rate to about 45% and increase his FB rate to around 30%, I definitely see it. He has the power. I know alot of writers out there are predicting MVP type seasons from him. He’s just dripping with talent. He gets that K rate down and the FB rate up and he’s a top 10 OF offensively.

          • For comparison, Marte has topped Cutch in average fly ball distance each of the past three years.

            Marte has a combined 44 home runs. Cutch has 69. And they have roughly the same Ball In Play rate.

            The difference is Cutch hits about 40% ground balls, Marte hits about 51% ground balls.

              • Mostly. He could serve to turn some of those pulled grounders into oppo fly balls, but he has a tendency to put even middle-in pitches on the ground. That’s all swing plane.

                Guys that start their hands as high as Marte tend to bring the bat through the zone flat or at a downward angle. Look at the good power hitter and they all either have their hands below the shoulder or drop the before launching.

          • I disagree with your first sentence. Sometimes the things we want to see a player change are the things which make them as successful as they are. Don’t take this to mean that he can’t get better, I think he will, but he will stay the same type of player, because that is how he can best utlize his talent

      • I think this largely depends on what the team asks him to do. His splits last year by batting order tell quite a story. When he was batting 4th or 5th, he obviously felt pressure to be “the power guy” in the lineup.

        Batting 4th-5th K% 23.7% 1 HR / 28.5 AB Pull% over 48%

        Batting 2nd K% 13.7% 1 HR 34.6 AB Pull% 41%

        That’s a hitter who is “trying” to fill a presumed role in a lineup. As the middle of the order guy, he was swinging hard and trying to generate power. As a #2 hitter he was trying to keep counts alive and generate contact.

        If the Pirates really want him to be their cleanup hitter, I have little doubt he will hit 30 HR in that role. But he will also strike out 150 times (and probably steal less than 15 bases). Personally I would rather he stays as a #2, and winds up a 22-24 HR, 25-35 SB guy until his speed wanes.

    • I agree that he was physically not in his best condition to start the season due to nagging injuries. I also think playing this game at the MVP level that this guy plays is much more mental and emotional than physical, and his whole personal life had just changed with his marriage in November, 2014. I think that took more than just a slight edge away from his usual offseason preparation. He started badly, became frustrated with his game and said so publicly, but had the mental toughness to overcome the poor start and challenge for MVP votes down the stretch. Very, very few players in the game today that mean as much to their franchise as he does to the Pirates.

  14. It’s nice to go here and see logic. I go over to PG and the Trib and everyone is bitching about Nutting’s wallet. The irony (and I said on those sites) is that the Pirates actually run their organization very close to the Steelers. They build from within, don’t overpay on free agents, and know when to cut someone loose. They don’t go after DeMarcus Ware or Derrell Revis, they sign DeAngelo Williams and James Farrior and it works out more often than not. I can almost guarantee that Chris Davis doesn’t outperform John Jaso in such a way to nearly justify the difference in contracts.

    • The fact that NFL teams all start out with around $240 million in revenue before even playing a game, makes this comparison a bit moot.

      There are different ways to construct baseball teams, I don’t think there is one correct way, as for complaining about Nutting’s wallet, ’tis the season.

      • What has always amused me about the complaining on spending is I wonder how many of those people actually spend a decent amount of money on the product, the Pirates. I’m a full season ticket holder and I prefer the Pirates win with the lowest payroll possible to do it. If tickets rise to the average prices in the division, I can’t and won’t be a season ticket holder anymore. I rarely talk to season ticket holders around me at PNC who say they want to see payroll really escalate, they all know what that will mean to ticket prices, which after 3 consecutive years of increases still aren’t too bad, however after this year’s increase I’m pretty close to my affordable limit.

        • I agree with this to a certain degree. Anyone who frequents other ballparks see the difference in price, in some case over 50%.

        • I don’t have the interest to be a full season tix holder, but this will be 4th year on a 20-game plan. I’m now paying $1800 for 2 seats in section 120, an average of $45/ticket. I think my personal pain threshold will be $2500. Less if they suck this year.

          I believe last year’s average (median) ticket price was just short of $20. Cards were close to $35, Cubs were over $40, Reds and Brews were about $5 more than Bucs. Tix pricing advantages plus 3 of the 4 NLC teams outdraw Pgh, means we’re just not going to get to a salary level that even the Brewers can afford comfortably until the new TV money arrives… if there’s even cable by then.

    • It depends on how they use Jaso though. There is a reason he’s not highly regarded. Overexpose him and that value goes away

  15. The club has seemed to save a lot of money, hoping that parleys into a #3 starter. If not, then they better lock up more of their nucleus with this money.

  16. Nice article! I am in agreement and tend to think that this feels like a worthy hitting club at this point. i still Hold out hope that they will upgrade Florimon but I would be ok with this team heading into spring training.
    I was also thinking about how much the Cubs have upgraded and tend to think the answer is not as much in reality as on paper. They already won 97 last year – and that seems about what I would predict for them in 2016

    • Agree with that and I liked the signing of John Jaso. Catchers just tend to be selfless players willing to do the best they can for the team they are playing with, and I like the fact that we will have added another legitimate LH hitter in the lineup. His contract is as reasonable as can be expected, and unless something falls into the Pirates hands, this could be the end of the adds to the lineup.

      The rest going forward will be pitching, and the key to that is that we hopefully do not add anything that is a subtraction overall – we need solid clubhouse guys, and I cannot wrap myself around Mat Latos – just too many issues.

      Much to do today so if I do not get a chance to get back on – Buon Natale. Wish all a safe and happy holiday, Merry Christmas.

  17. Initially I didn’t like the Jaso signing. His positive attitude about playing for the PBC, his willingness to play first and be the emergency catcher and the pluses he brings with his ability to get on base and his low strikeout rate have changed my opinion. However, I am still concerned about his abilities defensively. Jaso>Jeff Clement, but still he’ll be learning an almost new position.

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