First Pitch: Why Gregory Polanco is the Most Important Pirate in 2016

The off-season plan for the Pirates feels far from complete. They made a big move this week in trading away Neil Walker for Jon Niese, adding another ground ball pitcher to the staff, and making a big change at second base. Beyond that, they could still add another starter, will probably trade Mark Melancon, should definitely add a first base option, and there are plenty of possible scenarios beyond this.

Since we’re so early in the off-season, it’s impossible to say for sure how things will shape up, and how the team projects to perform. That said, one thing seems to be coming into focus after the departures of Walker and Alvarez.

It may not be by design, but the Pirates are set to see an upgrade to their infield defense with the loss of Walker and Alvarez. They project to have Jung-ho Kang and Jordy Mercer at third base and shortstop. Kang rated 11th in DRS and 13th in UZR/150 last year at third base out of 31 qualified players. Mercer ranked 14th and 12th respectively out of 31 qualified players. The 31 was a coincidence in an attempt to get the list as close to 30 players as possible.

The results were worse at second and first. Neil Walker ranked 21st and 30th out of 32 qualified players at second base, and unlike the other positions, he had negative value in each stat. And Pedro Alvarez ranked last in each category at first base.

Josh Harrison is already announced as the replacement for Walker at second base, and this will provide a defensive upgrade. Walker had a career -6.4 UZR/150 rating, and was in the -8.6 range the last two years. Harrison has a 1.6 UZR/150 at second, with positive value the last three years. This comes with the disclaimer that he has a total of 605.2 innings at second, so we’re dealing with about half a season of results. That’s not reliable data, but other metrics, including Defensive Runs Saved and Plus/Minus, also give him positive ratings in this short time. It looks like the Pirates have a good chance to upgrade defensively here.

At first base, the Pirates could put pretty much anyone at the position and see an upgrade. That includes the water cooler that Sean Rodriguez beat up in the Wild Card game, assuming it doesn’t start the year on the disabled list. You know what? Even if it does start the year on the DL, we’ll assume the defense will be upgraded.

The Pirates will have an improved infield defense, and that is a great thing for a pitching staff that will probably lead all of baseball in ground ball percentage for the fourth year in a row. Out of the 113 starters with 120+ innings last year, their current rotation includes the 5th (Charlie Morton), 10th (Jon Niese), 23rd (Francisco Liriano), 26th (Jeff Locke), and 37th (Gerrit Cole) best ground ball rates. Assuming that stays the same (probably unlikely) or assuming they replace one of these guys with another good ground ball pitcher (historically likely, if they add another pitcher), then the upgraded infield defensive will provide a huge boost to the team and the pitching staff.

There’s one problem with this approach, and that comes on offense. At the start of the off-season, I talked about how the Pirates are going to have a specific challenge this year finding upgrades. There aren’t many positions on the team that were huge holes, which means they have the challenge of replacing good players with the right players who are better fits for the team. In this case, Harrison and “Inevitably Better at Defense Than Alvarez” are much better fits on defense. The problem is that the Pirates are losing offense in this exchange.

Walker has been one of the better offensive second basemen in baseball the last few years. I’d throw out his 2014 season, because I don’t think he will repeat those numbers, but his other seasons are fairly consistent and pretty strong. Last year he posted a .269/.328/.427 line in 603 plate appearances, with a .325 wOBA and a 108 wRC+. That’s in line with his normal performance.

Harrison had a great year in 2014, but I also don’t think that will be repeated. He posted a .287/.327/.390 line last year, with a .313 wOBA and a 100 wRC+. I think that’s more likely to happen again. That would represent a drop in production from Walker though.

The Pirates might also see a big drop in production from Pedro Alvarez to his replacement. For all of the defensive criticism I’ve given him in this article, Alvarez had a huge year offensively. He had a .243/.318/.469 line, a .333 wOBA, and a 114 wRC+.

Between Walker and Alvarez, the Pirates are losing a lot of offense. The problem with the current team is that it’s difficult to see where that offense could be made up. You hope that Francisco Cervelli and Jung-ho Kang perform as well as they did in 2015, but you couldn’t realistically expect more than what they put up. Jordy Mercer has been inconsistent offensively, and I don’t think you can expect an upgrade there.

Starling Marte and Andrew McCutchen didn’t have their best offensive years last year. Marte had a .337 wOBA, which was down from .358 and .344 the previous two seasons. McCutchen posted a .380 wOBA, after being in the .393-412 range the previous three years. So you might get some kind of upgrade here, but those two already had strong numbers, and I don’t think you can bank on anything more than last year (you can certainly hope for it, though).

There’s a chance that the first base addition could help out offensively. The Pirates have been connected to Mike Napoli and Mitch Moreland the most this off-season. Both have been strong defenders at first base, but neither looks to match the offense from Alvarez. Napoli had a .321 wOBA last year and a 98 wRC+. That’s down from his previous seasons, but it’s also possible he could be on the downswing of his career at the age of 34. Moreland had a career year last year, with a .348 wOBA and a 115 wRC+. If you knew you were getting this, then you’d trade for him instantly and have a massive upgrade over Alvarez. But his history suggests he might not repeat this, with a career .329 wOBA and a 101 wRC+.

If you read the article title, then you’re probably expecting this next part, a thousand words later. The area where the Pirates could see the biggest improvement offensively — enough to make up for the loss of Walker and Alvarez — is in right field with Gregory Polanco.

Last year was Polanco’s first full season in pro ball. He finished with a .256/.320/.381 line in 652 plate appearances, along with a .304 wOBA and a 94 wRC+. Polanco did show some improvements in the second half. He had a .276/.324/.425 line, a .324 wOBA and a 108 wRC+. He was great in July and August, but saw a bit of a decline in September. That could have been chalked up to poor luck, as he had one of the best hard hit rates that month, and it seemed like every hard hit ball he had went directly to a fielder, including the Wild Card game. His hard hit rate was above 30% in each of the last three months, after being at 27.7% the first half of the season. Despite this trend continuing in September, he saw a drop off with his numbers.

I could see a breakout from Polanco this year. So far, the only projections on him are Steamer, with a .316 wOBA and a 103 wRC+, although ZiPS comes out shortly and has always been higher on him than other projections, so that will be interesting to see. If he can repeat his second half numbers, putting up a wOBA in the .325 range, that would go a long way to replacing Walker and Alvarez.

The Pirates last year had Alvarez at a .333 wOBA, Walker at .325, and Polanco at .304. Let’s say they get .313 from Harrison, and .320 from whichever first baseman they add. I think the latter number is fair, since it matches the projections for Napoli and Moreland for the 2016 season, while still allowing for plenty of upside with either player (Napoli returning to his pre-2015 numbers and Moreland repeating his 2015 season).

Converting the 2015 Alvarez, Walker, and Polanco wOBA numbers into wRC, we get a total of 198.46 wRC. Assuming everyone else stays the same, that’s the figure the Pirates would need from their new first baseman, Harrison, and Polanco.

If we use the .313 for Harrison and .320 for the first baseman, then Polanco would need a .328 wOBA next year in order to make up for the drop in production at first and second base.

If Polanco can repeat his strong second half, and carry that over to the 2016 season, then the Pirates will be fine on offense, and a much better team overall. They’ll see big upgrades on the right side of their infield, which is extremely important due to their ground ball approach. They’ll see a decline in offense from those two positions, but Polanco’s improvements would make up for that, leading to the same overall team offense from last year, along with much better defense.

Obviously there are a lot of other moving parts on the team. Maybe Kang and Cervelli take a step back. Maybe Marte and McCutchen bounce back to their previously higher numbers to make up for that. And then there are all of the defensive considerations, all of the pitching considerations, and every other factor which makes up a team’s overall record. But the big concern with the current off-season status is that the Pirates will lose a lot of offense from replacing Walker and Alvarez. If they are able to bring in a first baseman like Napoli or Moreland, and if Polanco repeats his second half success, then that drop in offense at those two positions will be negated.

**If you haven’t ordered your 2016 Prospect Guide, you can do so on the products page of the site. Current Top Prospect Plan members can get a free copy of the book with the code “TOPPROSPECT”, while current Annual subscribers should use the code “ANNUAL” for $10 off the book. The book will be printing next week, and shipping out by the end of the week. We also offer gift packages and gift subscriptions if you’d like to introduce the site to a friend or family member. That is always appreciated.

**Pirates Sign Pitcher Juan Nicasio. I like this move. It’s a better version of Arquimedes Caminero. If he repeats last year’s results, then you’ve got a strong middle reliever who can throw multiple innings. If he improves his control, you’ve got a late inning guy. And the Pirates are pretty good about fixing control problems.

**Pirates Interested in Mat Latos. I’m going to be honest here: I’ve seen a lot of complaints about why Latos is a bad person, but I haven’t followed that situation, so I don’t know what people are referencing. Feel free to fill me in on this. My analysis on Latos is completely on-field related.

**Pittsburgh Pirates 2015 Rule 5 Draft Results. The Pirates lost one of their recent minor league free agent signings, and a few lower level minor leaguers in the Triple-A phase, while picking up an organizational shortstop.


  • Since Heyward is in the news and since he and Polanco share a position and some attributes, would anyone consider Polanco disappointing if he has the same career as Hayward? I believe — hope! — Polanco will have the better career. But, he may not. Heyward is a very good player. Yet, he has disappointed some.

    • BuccosFanStuckinMD
      December 12, 2015 1:03 pm

      Because of his physical stature, a lot of people thought Heyward would be a 30+ HR power hitter, which is obviously is not. Defensively, there may not be a better RF in baseball, but I think his hitting has disappointed some who expected a lot more from him.

  • The open market on relief pitching never ceases to amaze me.

  • I do expect Jung-Ho, if healthy, to take a huge step forward this season. To come in, acclimated, with a starter role, and a year of experience under his belt to go along with his advanced approach at the plate…I see very good things.

    Polanco is vitally important, if this is all to pan out, but I see Kang taking the bigger leap.

  • I absolutely agree Polanco is the most important hitter for next year. I think he’s going to break out this year. He looked like a total different player in the second half,even in Sept when he struggled I think it was more bad luck and wearing down because he hadn’t ever played that many games in a season. I honestly can’t wait to see what he becomes. I see a .285/.350 15 HR season from him with good defense. His hitting wasn’t the only think he did well in the 2nd half. He’s becoming one of the better RF’ers in baseball. Pirates have the most talented OF in baseball and after this year everyone in baseball will know this is the best OF in the game. I need to see McCutchen have a career year. His average has taken a hit the last couple seasons . We need him back up into the .320/.400 range also this team needs to use it’s speed a little more. The outfield alone is quick enough to steal 80-90 bases. In the infield I’d be happy /surprised with .270 with 10 Hrs from Harrison with better range with a bit of an upgrade defensively though he doesn’t turn a DP like Walker. Mercer needs to hit this season. He’s a little bit above an average defender but he needs to contribute offensively. I like him better as a utility IF’er and that’s what he should be if he doesn’t start hitting. Cervelli will hit enough and call great games and have good pitch framing but he and the pitchers need to work on holding runners and throwing them out. This was a major issue this year which is why I don’t see him as a good defender. He seemed to struggle blocking pitches at times as well. Polanco is the X factor this yeah offensively for sure

  • BuccosFanStuckinMD
    December 11, 2015 4:02 pm

    What would it cost to get AJ Reed from the Astros? You know, the guy we could have drafted instead of Conner Joe?
    He has a ton of power and tore up the minors last year….and the year before…would they take Taillon and Hansen for him?

  • Sounds like Cardinals are going after Gordon now.

  • Here is how Polanco could improve next year, by getting traded to the Indians for Carrasco and getting CarGo from the Rockies. I could be wrong, but I feel that the same article was written last year about baby giraffe.

  • As currently constructed they have one lefty in lineup playing in a park that severely benefits lefties and is unforgiving to righties. So much for having that home field advantage.

    • With absolutely no power in the system to boot.

      • True there strictly “gap power” drafting makes me feel like in 5 or 6 years we will have a singles hitting lineup. Wonder if it any way is related to pedro failures

        • Worked for the Royals. Power isn’t as big as it once was.

          • They are great contact hitters but they still had pop too. You don’t need to be the Blue Jays but you need some.

            • Power overcomes gaps in a lineup where there isn’t elite on-base skill, but if the Pirates are drafting to build a team, ultimately, which is an elite on-base team, they don’t need the power.

              Right now, as constructed, the Pirates are not an elite on-base team, so they probably need some power.

          • Astros, Cubs, and Jays?

            • Proving you can win baseball games in various ways. Those teams relied on power and had it work to a degree, teams like KC and STL were able to win many games with below average power.

              Seems like a matter of personal preference as to which is better, since both can work.

              • The Pirates need power. Indisputable.

                • Random facts for 100.

                  The discussion was about how power related to teams winning, and the point was made teams have won without all that much power. You pointed out good teams with big power, and i pointed out there are many ways to win as your list+others lists shows.

                  The Pirates need to find ways to produce value on the field. Power is 1 of many ways to do that.

                • Not really . As Luke S stated you don’t need all that much power anymore. The pitching is better than it has been in a very long time. Power hitters tend to try to do to much. We need good smart hitter who take what the pitcher gives them and use the whole park. In the Wild Card Game it seemed like everyone was trying to take Arrieta deep every AB. The best AB I saw was Morse’s when he sat back and took a nice easy swing and drove it up the middle for a basehit. One of the reasons offense is down is because hitters brains are still in the steroid era. Hitters will adjust and this game will become a sport for true hitters again, That’s exciting. I’d rather see spray hitting than home runs

                  • Power is not exclusive to HRs. Doubles too.

                    You know Chris. They lost about 12 years of XBH and HRs with Walker and Alvarez. More if you count Ramirez. That’s after finishing near the bottom in ISO with those guys.

                    Hopefully Marte and Polanco are setting personal bests for squats this weekend.

    • Hopefully Hanson and Bell will both force their ways into the lineup and that’ll give the Bucs 2 switchhitters who are stronger from the left.

  • Pirates lost 43 HR’s from the left side of the plate….To bounce out the lineup, they need more Left handed Hitters…1B, and a UT inf who hits left handed

  • Time to really hate the Cubs.

  • Cubs just signed Heyward. I hate the Cubs.

    • If anyone can spin this positively, pass me whatever you’re puffing.

      • Haha I was gonna say the same thing. They are stacked now. Winning division for years to come might be a distant memory.

        • I will say this much…I’m a Pirates fan who lives in Chicago, Northside. Cubs fans are a fickled complexion of obnoxiously boisterous and overly nervous. They get worked up and excited, but there’s a thing in the back of their head reminding them not to get too excited, because the past has proven to only break their hearts.

          Theyre going to be tough this year, but I’m not sold on them going over the top and winning the WS until it actually happens.

          We all thought the way the Nationals spent money last year that the Nationals were definitely the favorite and they didnt even make the playoffs. Nothing is certain until it happens, especially with the Cubs.

          The Pirates can still be competitive IF NH starts making some sneaky and savvy moves over the coming days and weeks ahead. He’s done it before, moves that didnt get headlines but ended up producing huge value for the team. I’m waiting on his next moves here.

          Also for the record, this a big gut punch to St. Louis than anybody. Two players now have chosen the Cubs over the Cards. Cards might be fine next season, but its a gut punch to the ego at a minimum.

          • Great points all round. One thing that sets cubs apart from the nationals disappointment tho is maddon. He will never let that happen.

            • eh I’m not as high on him as some people are…he’s never won as a manager. Think he won once a WS a bench coach with I cant remember who? He went to the WS with the Rays as manager. His managerial record is better than Hurdle’s, but the results are pretty similar. I think Maddon and Hurdle are similar managers.

              • That’s fair but maddon is leaps ahead of what Matt Williams was for nats

                • The silver lining for the Pirates is that there now isn’t really much point in trying to match their competition, from a team building perspective. They can’t get close, objectively speaking. Truly impressive what Epstein & Co have been able to do.

                  Pirates just need to focus internally on building the strongest organization they can for as long as possible and hope for a ton of luck.

                  • Well said.

                    A ton of poor play by CHC and its talented team.

                    • Honestly feel worst for the players. You have to have stupid amounts of unbridled confidence to play this game in the first place, but they’re also not idiots.

                      They reeeaaalllyyy wanted the Division last year, and you can’t tell me they don’t see this and at least for a second say, “Well, shit”.

                    • Without a doubt. Though, having been around a few guys who went on to play professionally (minors), some of these SOBs have a high level of cocky.

                      As in like 95% of high level players.

                    • More likely they say “Bring them on”.

                    • Are we talking about the same guys who have complained about not getting enough help at the deadline multiple times?

                  • Very true

                  • Cubs do look formidable on paper. By having such a young and cheap core last year they are able to make full use of their large budget. And they are projected for over 52 WAR currently.

                    But let me list a bunch of reasons not to print those playoff tickets yet:

                    1: they were +7 above their pythagorean projection last year. They are building from a 91 win talent level. (Bucs were 93)
                    2. They got an historically good performance from Arrieta down the stretch. That is highly unlikely to happen again.
                    3. Schwarber & Russell both succeeded out of the gate. That is rare for rookies, and some regression usually follows.
                    4. Coghlan had a career year in that 97-win season. Will he do it again?
                    5. Zobrist is 35. Everyone fades some time.
                    6. Is Heyward a CF? We’ll find out.
                    7. Their lineup is vulnerable to LHP.

                  • One of baseball’s best characteristics is that the best team on paper doesn’t always win (1960 Pirates, 1971Pirates, 1979 Pirates)

                • You know, I never feel managers can have a really big impact on wins and losses. A few here or there in a season.

                  Matt Williams is actually so bad, though, that a study demonstrating he cost the Nats double digits wins last year wouldn’t at all surprise me.

          • Cubs did hurt the Cards.

          • I want to share in your optimism, but is difficult when you lose AJ, JHapp 43 HR and is accepted that the team will not do much to fix the problem.

            • wasnt J.A. Happ the guy we all laughed at and thought what a horrible trade it was at the time. We had the guy for 2 months.

              I’m just giving Huntington time to make moves. I dont think he’s done. I hope he’s not done. If he is or its minimal, then yes, I’ll be more critical and negative, but I’m still waiting to see what he does. Theres plenty of time.

  • Polanco, Bell, Taillon & Glasnow will be the players that will elevate the Pirates onto the next level. If one fails or has a Pedro-like career, so be it. But the team needs to keep pace with the Cubs, because the Cubs had and still have prospect that can help and can can always throw money at a problem. Hopefully, Polanco will breakout next year.

  • .234 wOBA against lefties. Thats poop, Tim.

    • #analysis

      • Also, Josh Harrison is short.

        • Conversely, his chin beard game is on point.

          • I hate you worse than that ugly-ass beard… 😉

            • Fortunately for me, my beard is beautiful. So I can do at least one thing better than at least some baseball players.

              Conversely, I cannot baseball nearly as well as them.

              • I’d literally take you in a baseball catching contest over Alvarez. Ironically, the opposite in a beard growing contest.

                • I was never too impressed with Pedro’s beard. I prefer a full man-beard like Johnny Damon or Brett Keisel or Jake Arrieta. I hate that Arrieta’s on the Cubs. I like him.

    • Unfortunately there are no good places to find partial season splits, but I feel like Polanco had much better numbers vs lefties in the second half.

      • I always thought I was just an idiot and couldn’t figure out where to find half season platoon splits.

        Then again, there’s probably not much value in parsing such small samples, specifically looking at the short side.

        • Yeah, the numbers would be suspect. But it would answer questions like this one with Polanco, not so much from an analysis standpoint, but from a curiosity standpoint.

          I’ve searched the internet for years for two things: lefty/righty monthly splits and the Oliver Perez commercial. I’m glad I found one of those this year. The other one I keep searching for, figuring it has to be out there somewhere, knowing it probably isn’t.

          • I found them at baseballhq:

            2015 Apr-Jun .139/.184./139, 3% bb, 36% k in 36 AB
            2015 Jul- Oct .211/.276/.333, 8% bb, 26% k in 90 AB

            Best months were July .748 OPS, 22 AB and August .680 OPS in 36 AB.

    • I tend to trust his minor league splits more, since there’s so much more data, and in the minors, his platoon split was pretty small.

      He was used at the start of last season like a platoon player, and you have to see guys to hit guys, so it makes sense he struggled, at least for a while, against lefties.

      He won’t be in a platoon this year, so he’ll get a chance to get into a rhythm against lefties out of the gate. I can only see that helping to close his ML splits to something closer to his MiL splits.

      • I think this number just illustrates he’s got a ways to go before we can expect *more*.

        But in separate conversations from this one, I find it comical that people expect enough production from players like Hanson, Bell, maybe Diaz Year 1, when here we are Year 3 with Polanco, and Year 4 Marte and we still need to see improvement in some areas.


        • Getting boosts from those guys could mean they come up and play as flawed but roughly average contributors. Flawed but roughly average would be an improvement at first, a bit below a wash at second, and a huge step back at catcher (though we’ll have Cervelli there for sure, so that doesn’t really matter). I don’t think that’s an unlikely expectation with Bell and Diaz, and I don’t think it’s unreasonable with Hanson (though less likely there).

          Even so, while Polanco is clearly a flawed player, he was roughly average last year in his first full ML season. That’s pretty valuable. And yeah, there’s obviously upside, and he could position himself among the best in the game as soon as this season.

          Marte, though, we’re not waiting on anything with. He’s an elite LF. A flawed player, maybe, but he’s still very good. He is what he is, and what he is is a major contributor to Bucco success. And when he debuted, he was a league average hitter and a bit above average overall (in 47 games), before turning in an outstanding first full campaign, well above league average in hitting, baserunning, and defense.

          • In hitting really?

            • In hitting really for what? Polanco posted a 94 wRC+ last year (barely below average), but got value boosts from baserunning and defense which put him at roughly average overall. Marte posted exactly a 100 wRC+ in his debut year, and in his first full season notched a 122 wRC+, which meant he was 22% above average.

              • Where did the power go after May last year? You know as well as I, the Ks to BBs still needs to get better?

                That’s the point of this article. Since they aren’t going to add a decent piece to the offense, the shortcomings of our corner OFs have to improve.

                • Polanco’s should. Marte’s don’t need to. 2015 Marte will be just fine. And for Marte, no, the Ks and BBs don’t need to get better because he has shown definitively he can be among the best left fielders in baseball with them right where they are.

                  Also, full body of work, Marte posted a first-half wRC+ of 117 last year. He posted a second-half wRC+ of 117 as well. By month, 122 in March and April, 120 in May, 104 in June, 142 in July, 88 in August, and 130 in September. That’s only one down month, and he was pretty darned consistent. Speaking of the power, though, ISO by month was .274 in March/April, .188 in May, .089 in June, .117 in July, .143 in August, .153 in September. No, he didn’t keep up a torrid power pace all season (he’s not a ~.200 ISO type of hitter), but he did hit for an above-average .135 ISO in the second half.

                  Polanco should improve, and that will boost the team. He started to put things together in the second half last year. Given his pedigree, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect second-half Polanco (or better) as a more likely outcome than first-half Polanco.

                  Polanco, by the way, had a first-half ISO of .100, but that jumped to .150 in the second half.

                  I don’t really get what you’re complaining about here.

                  • Not so much complaining. Just my opinion to make up for the losses of Walker, Alvarez and Ramirez- Marte and Polanco got to get to top 50 ISO. That’s no small task, man.

                    • They only have to make up as much power as necessary to match the value lost to those players’ departures. Other value could come to the team in the signings or trades to acquire other players, defensive or baserunning improvements, etc.

                      If Cutch has a healthy season, there’s a decent chance his numbers improve, both hitting and baserunning. Marte seems to be pretty good for the value he provides, so we can count on another season somewhere in the range of the ones he’s already had. Harrison doesn’t hit as well as Walker, but he makes up some of that value in baserunning and defense. Pedro’s replacement only has to make up as much offensive value as he doesn’t gain from defense. If the Pirates add another starting pitcher, coupled with the almost-certainly improved infield defense, there’s additional value in run prevention. There’s also value to get from prospects who can debut this year. Hanson, Bell, Taillon, and Glasnow all have shots to join the team at some point and contribute.

                      Right now, yes, the opening day 2016 roster is worse than the end-of-the-year 2015 one, but the gap to opening day 2015 is smaller than that (it always is), and there’s time to add and improve. They’re still a darned good team.

                    • It would go a long way if they got out the gate strong.

        • Still need to see improvement is different than getting good value.

          Every player on the team needs to improve in some area. Pretty absurd to use that as justification as to why you cannot expect moderate production from talented young players.

          Since Cutch’s arm sucks, do i gotta never assume Willy Garcia could play well as a 4th OFer? Comical way to judge them.

          And again, moderate production. Capable backup types. Some are bending over backwards to be reasonable about hopes for young players as rookies and you still laugh about expecting that. If we cant expect that, then all rookies would have suck level expectation regardless of talent level.

          • How much production did they get out of rookies last year? Oh that’s right, there were none.

            • Nothing flawed with that logic. You win, all rookies should have the expectations of useless since sometimes we dont get much production from them.

              When they do produce, ill ignore it since yolo.

  • FWIW there are concerns relative to next years bench.
    As always salary must be a consideration. I admit to knowing next to little about defensive metrics, but here goes.
    With Cervelli’s injury history, Stewart’s history as a backup and Diaz being a rookie, I’d like to see an upgrade at catcher. The Padres are said to be exploring trading Derek Norris. He would bring a power bat into the fold, bring some youth and be able to help ease Diaz into whatever role he might have in the future. Would Melancon work as a trade somehow?
    It might be a long reach but would Ruben Tejada fit in as a utility IF? And if so, what might the Mets asking price be?
    Kelly Johnson is a LH FA bat who could step in at 2B, 3rd or in LF. Not great in the field but versatile. Has some pop and his bat would be an upgrade over SRod.
    Just some thoughts.

    • Not disagreeing. Just going to state this unbelievable fact.

      Tony Sanchez is still on the 40 man.

      Probably at least makes it to Spring. During and Afterwards is another question entirely.

    • I completely disagree with your assessment of the catcher situation. I think the Pirates are set up just fine. Diaz has a year of AAA under his belt and was voted best defensive catcher in the minors. Cervelli played a full year last year and Stewart has been an excellent backup. He even provided a solid bat last year. I think the Pirates have some of the best catching depth in the majors. Aside from the fact that Derek Norris wouldn’t be worth the cost. I think the Pirates need to not block the AAA prospects with mediocre vets this year and sink or swim on their farm system depth.

      • While I am not in complete disagreement with you, Cervelli did play a full season in ’15, his very first. Diaz is a fine defensive catcher, but will he hit. Stewart is good defensively and a punch and Judy hitter. I agree the Pirates have a good, maybe even very good, 1-2 punch at catcher.
        The PBC lacks sufficient power for next season. Bringing in Norris not only would help with the power shortagebut provide IMO a better alternative to either Stewart or Diaz as an everyday tandem. Norris’ cost would be about $2MM than Stewart as far as salary goes. The possibility exists that Melancon and his potential $10MM salary will be elsewhere in ’16, perhaps to SD, providing about $8MM savings to be applied elsewhere. IMO, I don’t view Norris as mediocre.
        Thanks for your thoughts.

        • Actually, Norris would be a hell of a way to build depth at two positions, C and 1B.

          Extra depth at C allows Diaz to assume the backup role furthering his development while protecting against the worst case injury scenario.

          • How is Norris at 1B

            • Can’t say I’ve ever personally seen him at the position, and he made two errors in a little more than a hundred innings last year, but he’s probably at least playable in a backup role.

    • I only agree with your kelly johnson assessment. But they are not going to pay that kind of money for a utility guy

  • God save Sean rodrigeuz’s water cooler!

  • I dont fully agree about the missing power/production. Assuming Kang is healthy we will have him for the full year. Much better RBI and on base man with productive power than Alvarez and far better defense. Josh is a better defender, much faster and probably will hit close to 10 home runs . So I actually see him as an offensive push if not a plus over Walker. If we get a good platoon partner at first with Morse I see the infield being much better defensively and offensively better as well. I would like to see an upgrade at shortstop with Jordy moving to utility type role . I do agree with the Polanco observation. I expect a big year from him and if he delivers the Pirates will be formidable. The key will be pitching and Neil has some work to do there.

  • For me the issue is pitching. I’m very much down on our rotation and have some concerns about our prospects. It will be pitching, if anything, that will make this team competitive next year and right now it isn’t close to last year’s rotation or to being good enough to really compete, especially in our division. Add Kazmir and I think we are closer…

    • The only difference between this years rotation and last years rotation (if today was opening day) is Jon Niese instead of AJ. 29 yo Niese vs 37 yo AJ. People were freaking out about that rotation opening day last year, and it worked out. The big difference going into this year is we may get some help from some top prospects by mid year.

      I’d say we’re already in better shape then we were last march, and it’s only december.

      • Dude, Burnett and Happ combined to put up 5 wins in the #3 hole.

        That’s like plugging Jon Lester or Madison Bumgarner in the middle of your rotation. You simply cannot understate how big that was.

        And you’re absolutely wrong about people “freaking out” over the rotation last year. People were not “freaking out” after Liriano and Burnett were brought back to solidify the #2 and #3 slots.

        • People were absolutely freaking out. I remember leaving work opening day all pumped up about baseball season, and i turned on the fan and all anyone was talking about was the terrible rotation and how the pirates didn’t do enough.

          I’m not saying Niese will put up 5 wins. All I am saying is there is no reason to freak out about it yet. People weren’t exactly beaming about that Happ acquisition either. It was looked at as a plus if AJ could contribute coming off a miserable year in Philly.

          • “…and i turned on the fan…”

            Jesus, there’s your problem.

          • People were pissed off cause they felt they should have also kept volquez to replace morton or locke. They had no issue with bringing burnett and liriano back. Looking back they prob win the division if volquez was your 4 or 5.

            • But we cant plug in one addition and act like the rest of the addition magically also happen.

              The team wasnt going to see both AJ and Volquez as needed, and if they did they likely dont even bid on Kang. I dont see any way the team actually signs AJ+Volquez and gets serious about Kang.

              • Then shame on them.

                Kang will cost them less than $5m AAV, correct? Absurd to believe that marginal investment should deter them from signing a guy with his talent.

                Penny wise, pound foolish.

                • I think its more about the SP, and how they felt fine with needing 1 SP.

                  Unless they assumed all of their depth in AAA gets hurt, an offseason where they target one quality #3 and then focus elsewhere made imminent sense. They spent money on a SP and quality depth, as opposed to spending large money on 2 SPs, somehow on Kang (posting fee included) and likely gave themselves little to no room to improve mid season.

                  The only way everything shakes down the exact same the entire year is if we give an extra 10 million to overall payroll, and thats not gonna happen. They wont max out on OD, and 120 isnt something they are comfortable with.

      • I still think they sign another starter…maybe it will be Latos..he has the potential to be a legit #2/#3 type starter…that would allow Huntington to trade away either Morton or Locke. Niese to me is the replacement for one of them.

      • Well Neise for AJ is one difference. That and Vance Worley was on the roster, and Sadler and Kingham were ready to be called up, and Liz and Richards were potential starters that Searage was working on and Tallion had pitched competitively within the last year.

        The Pirates have no where near the starting depth actual or perceived this year. And you cannot seriously believe that the Pirates will get an all star performance from Neise, can you? That’s what they got from AJ

        • It depends upon if they add a decent reclamation project to the rotation. If they do, I’ll feel a bit better about it.

          Sadler to me is/was not a viable option. I liked Worley, couldnt understand why they didnt like him. Was it because he grumbled a bit last year. Shouldnt have been good enough reason to let him go in my opinion.

          Liz was not very good. No loss in my opinion. Richards was a loss, but not a significant one. Only a loss to me because we decided to trade him to the frickin Cubs. That still didnt make sense to me.

          I think the meteoric rise of Glasnow through the minor league system is where we can all have hope he will deliver on his promise. It would be a major boost if he came out and pitched like Cole did when he was brought up in 2013. Not sure that will happen, but it could.

          • I said “perceived depth” intentionally. It’s obvious in hindsight that the depth they had wasn’t what they thought it was.

            This year the “depth” they have is Taillon and Glassnow. Taillon hasn’t thrown a pitch in a game for TWO years. To me that’s not depth you can count on. Maybe he’ll be ready maybe not. If you believe Huntington, Glassnow isn’t ready. In fact I haven’t seen a quote from any member of the Pirates FO that suggests Glasnow is close to ready or expected to be ready this year. So… They don’t even have perceived depth as far as I can tell. I would be shocked and disappointed if they don’t add another SP at some point and in my opinion they will not be contenders this year if they don’t.

            • They always say a top prospect isnt ready. When has their been an occasion before the season started where NH has said…yeah he will be ready to start the season. Next to never. Why? Because for one thing, and probably the most important, he has to say that. He has to say that to justify holding Glasnow down in the minors till June to avoid Super Two. Look at the recent filings by Bryant and Franco against their teams for allegedly trying to cut their service time intentionally.

              Huntington cant say he’s intentionally holding Glasnow back (the same as he said for Cole or Polanco) for Super Two. So, he has to say its for player development. From what I’ve read/heard, off the record polling of front office people is mixed. Some think he could be ready start at beginning of season, some dont. I dont dismiss the legitimate need for them to see some outings in Triple A go over well with Glasnow and for him to work on some things prior to his June call up.

              I think he will be very good in Indianapolis and will be called up in June. How he does when he gets called up, we’ll see.

              • Maybe you are right. I’m a “believe it when I see it” kind of guy. It was widely reported that Taillon was coming up 2 years ago

                Personally I don’t expect either Taillon or Glassnow to be ready until July at the earliest and I don’t think either will have a significant impact on 2016. I think Taillon will be ready first. I’m not sure Glassnow makes it to the bigs this year at all.

                My predictions seem to be only 30-40 percent accurate historically, so you know. 😉

  • Morton, Melancon, and Ramirez/McGuire for Moreland and Profar… Is that too much? That would give the Bucs an infield of Kang 3B, Profar SS, Hanson/J-Hay 2B, and Moreland 1B.

    • TEX will see that as Melancon and McGuire for Profar….so not close to the value they’d want. Even with his value not at a peak, TEX assuredly sees Profar as really valuable.

    • What do you do with Mercer? I like the idea of the trade, although it might take more to get Profar. Is Mercer a backup SS/3B? I like that idea.

    • Probably a tad much if the Morton for Moreland rumors had substance.

      However, Texas is trying to shed payroll…that’d be asking them to add ~$14M.

      As well, anybody have an update on Profar’s shoulder? I know there was talk that the Rangers weren’t positive it was going to hold up and he might have to move to 2B. I know he’s playing winter ball…but not sure of the position.

      EDIT: looks like he DH’d throughout the Fall League…still rehabbing shoulder.

      • I would think that Profar is still valued pretty highly given his status as a prospect. I read somewhere that the Rangers were looking for a closer. With Shark only having one year left, I figured it take more than just Shark and Chuck to pry those 2 given Profar’s pedigree and years of control.

        • He’s still valued highly…but, he’d have less overall value at 2B than at SS. In a perfect world, a lights out closer could pull a top prospect all by himself, but, with only having a year of control, you’d probably have to add something to the mix. People are up and down on McGuire based on his bat…I’d think, if you believe his bat will eventually come around, adding him to the trade would be a bit much.

          Just my opinion, though…

  • Good article. The only problem is the base case scenario it seems is that we get the same production. So there is no way to improve on what was a middle of the pack offense anyway. You would think with the pitching and bullpen potentially taking a step back you would need to improve offense.

    • Top 3 offense in the NL. While 3-5 was close in terms of wRC+, our offense was solid.

      If we can stick in the 99 wRC+ territory, we’ll likely be above “middle of the pack”. It’ll be the potential drop that should be a cause for concern.

      • The problem with this type of analysis is using two different scales.

        The Pirates were 5th in runs created, which is “above average” scaled by the 15 team league. Makes you *feel* like they’re comfortably above average and can withstand the loss of offense, except that there was only an *actual* difference of 35 wRC between 5th and 10th place.

        The Pirates *lost* 136 wRC in Walker and Alvarez.

        They can very, very easily drop to back of the pack without replacing the majority of that offense.

        • If they lose that, i agree.

          His point was that if we “only” recover that value, we will be middle of the pack. My point was thats not true, and year to year 100 wRC+ will put you top 5 easily.

          If we dont recover a chunk of that lost value, we will see issues. If we recover it, shouldnt think of us as middle of the pack.

  • Good article, except for……………..

    Alvarez had a huge year offensively. He had a .243/.318/.469 line, a .333 wOBA, and a 114 wRC+.

    I wouldn’t call a .787 OPS a ‘huge’ year, but I get your point. If only he could field better than a water cooler.

  • The infield is an injury away from being shot to hell. Hate to bring a Tomlinism up, but they had much more ” position flexibility” last year.

    At the moment do they even have a 4th OF?

    • All teams are an injury or two away from being ‘shot to he!!’ at some postion or two.

      What’s your point? 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

      • Just not true, Foo.

        What made the Pirates so resilient last year was exactly that, depth. The Pirates aren’t one injury away from being “shot to hell”, but Arthur does make a very pertinent point about depth, or lack thereof currently.

        • I do think the Pirates are better positioned than ever before to pull depth from the minors. They will a legit prospect at just about every position. Bell, Hanson, Moroff, Frazier, Garcia, Diaz, Broxton, Glasnow, Taillon, Kuhl… Am I missing anyone? That’s 10 of their top 20-25 prospects right there including 5 of the top 10.

          • The expectations of the Pirates young players is unreasonable. And I don’t understand it after watching Cutch, Marte, Harrison, Cole and Polanco all go through there rookie AND sophomore struggles.

            • Why is it unreasonable to expect a young player to be okay depth in case of injury?

              Do we have to doubt every single young player until they are a good ML player? Id take the stats Cutch and Marte and Cole put up early in their careers as depth options. Any team that suffers an injury to a starting player is going to see a likely production drop, the key for depth is to make that drop the least painful it can be.

              I dont understand automatically doubting that young players cant be considered solid depth options that could plug and play good enough to keep us from tanking.

              • If Hanson slumps in AA, AAA and Winter Ball with regular ABs, how can he be expected NOT to slump coming off the bench?

                • He’s been streaky for sure. But how can i expect him not to slump? Well, he could have one of those odd hot streaks (that inherently come before a “slump” is possible” and hit good enough.

                  I certainly dont project the kid to show up and hit 300 with a 120 wRC+, but as depth goes he’s a non terrible option. He can hit .260 for 2 weeks just as easily as .220, he’s shown that in AAA. Started off hitting .290 in his first 300 at bats, slumped in his last 200 hitting .220.

                  My point being, he’s clearly not assured of anything. Seems unwise to expect him to be great, and equally unwise to assume he cant be productive during a Harrison injury.

                  We gotta start trusting the young talent, because the alternative is FA bench fillers that everyone makes fun of. They arent throwing 20 million into the bench, so the guys we go get arent gonna be starters we play off the bench. Give me a young guy we dont know about yet before Sean Rodriguez and his assured poor hitting.

              • “Id take the stats Cutch and Marte and Cole put up early in their careers as depth options.”

                Haha, no kidding. Those guys also happened to be really f*cking good at baseball.

                • Very true.

                  Id rather roll with young guys, even if some do struggle early, than go with FA retreads that are proven to be whatever they are.

                  I dont dislike Sean Rodriguez, but give me a young guy out of our system that at least hasnt been poor on offense yet over him.

            • Yeah but they were all serviceable. The fact that Coughlin won the ROY over Cutch was a crime.

              • But is a guy like Hanson the same level as a Cutch or Cole? Or Marte and Polanco? Ive never got that impression reading things here or elsewhere.

                My doubts about Hanson have a lot to do with Abraham Nunez. Who was much more highly touted and thought of, and just never, ever figured it out with the bat.

                • Are we thinking of the same Abraham Nunez… I’ve never thought of him as highly touted. I don’t think he was ever a top 100 prospect or above a grade C if that. I don’t think Hanson needs to be on the same level as Cutch or Cole. If he can put up 1.5+ WAR in his rookie season, I’d be happy with that especially if the Bucs can get a 2 WAR season out of first base and Polanco makes the jump for 3.5+ WAR player.

          • Very much agree. As I’ve been saying since summer, the “Pirates can’t draft” narrative was premature…but 2016 will go a hell of a long way to settling the score.

            Sink or swim time for the best system in baseball.

        • Idk, its not as good as last year but that was largely due to Kang. No one called S Rod or Hart “good” depth. If they bring in 1 backup 1Bmen and a backup IF type, it’ll be similar depth without a rookie of the year candidate to start.

          Surely less depth, but it seems early to make assumptions off that. If they dont address bench depth the entire offseason, someone fell asleep.

          • You can’t gloss over the fact that Kang was a 4 win player in that role. Sure they’ll bring in bodies for depth, but the quality of Kang and Harrison in ’14 is what made the team so resilient. That won’t be easily repeated.

            • Oh without a doubt, you cant repeat that. Im saying while the depth will be worse, that doesnt really mean its a sure thing to be bad overall.

              Being worse than having Kang on the bench to start the year is seemingly assured.

            • Kang was getting better as the season wore on. I don’t think it’s out of the realm of possibility to see a .290/.360/.470 with 20+ homers season from him over a full season.

              • I don’t disagree with that, absolutely a possibility, but they’ll be counting that as a starter this year. Our conversation was about depth. The previous two seasons, the Pirates have gained *massive* value from guys coming off the bench to assume major roles on the club, and that went a long way towards their overall success.

      • No, last year and definitely ’14 you had this luxury of moving JHey whenever you had someone slumping or just needed to give someone a blow.

        You don’t have that option now.

        • Assuming Hanson develops JHey is keeping 2nd base warm for him. Or Hanson becomes the next Jhey. The challenge for BMTIB is how to win 90+ while introducing the next wave of top prospects. Especially when you want those top prospects to avoid Super 2 and have 7 years of control.

        • Which is why they should start Hanson.

    • Arthur I think it’s time for injury insurance to come from the vaulted minor league system. Look at St. Louis last year they plugged all their injuries with the minor league. We need the next man up!

      • Oh, don’t worry. The columns about South African SSs and how the Pirates are the United Nations of baseball are coming.

    • To me this is a transition year. The 2017 team could be made up with 5-7 players with less than one years experience.

      • The reality of a successful small market club is that every year will be somewhat of a transition year, with one or two positions in turnover every year. Get used to it. I think the Pirates will successfully manage it.

  • leftie bats,need some.

  • Least we forget that famous BRB stat. Base Running Blunders. Maybe perception but how many times last season did we kill ourselves (Polanco) with the BRB. It’s where the offense went to die.

    • He had 8 TOOTBLANS last year. Marte had 14 in his worst year.

      GP will get better in that area……I hope (gulp).

    • The thing that gets lost in the “look at all his blunders” are the numerous times the aggressive style leads to him going 1st to 3rd and taking an extra base. Polanco sat top 15 in baseball in baserunning, so while those blunders make you shake your head the overall way he’s approaching baserunning is leading to huge value.

      Polanco’s baserunning far from killed the offense, it actually contributed to a good deal of our success.

  • Just 1700 words at midnight after the Winter Meetings. No big deal. 😉

    Very, very well done. Only quibble is with plugging Harrison’s offensive production in at 2B without backfilling those runs on the bench. This is robbing Peter to pay Paul. You’re not replacing offense in this case, just moving it around.

    That said, it shouldn’t be as difficult to find a bench bat, and the far greater point of the article is still very, very much true. And for a multiplying effect, what Polanco will need to improve in order for his overall production to rise, power, is primarily what the Pirates are losing in Walker and Alvarez. GP needs to be a league average power hitter, at least. No reason he can’t be. Must get him to stop slapping balls to the opposite field and truly drive contact.

    • I think Hanson should be given a chance to win the starting 2B job out of spring training. I think his speed could make up for production lost by Walker’s bat. The Pirates are better when Jay Hay is a super utility player.

      • Not opposed to this. I think the reality of 2016 being somewhat of a transition year has set in. They’ve still built a good enough team to contend for a wild card, but it’s looking like they’re shooting for high floor guys without much upside while they transfer in prospects who have that.

        • April is a long way off, but looking at where this team is and where they might be come opening day does appear to be a team contending for, at best, a wild card, which should have several teams in the mix.

          • But if they sign a #3 starter and say, Moreland for 1B I think you will have to upgrade your expectation to contending for the division crown.

            • I don’t think Moreland really moves the needle, but yes, a true first division 3 WAR #3 absolutely gives them a puncher’s chance at the Division.

    • Would be nice to get Juan Uribe or Kelly Johnson for veteran bench bats with some pop, and in Uribe case a decent/good glove.

      • The Angels Gott Yunel Escobar for so little (see what I did there?). I think he’d have been an improvement on either of those free agents, but sign me up for UriBear.

    • I think Pearce would be a great bench bat along with Morse and Bell when he comes up. That would be a solid bench. Find a regular 1st base option…for me it would ether trade for Moreland or sign Dae Ho Lee.

      • I’d prefer Pearce to Morse straight up…having a hard time picturing both on a Pirates roster, though, for cost reasons alone.

        • Maybe so…it depends on what they end up spending and depends on if they trade Melancon. What is their budget number specifically? All I’ve read/heard is above 100 million…haha that likely means 100 million on the dot, but they could be flexible enough to go up to 105 or 110? Who knows?

          They’re at 95 million right now roughly, if they trade Melancon they will be at 85 million with at minimum 15 million to spare.

    • I don’t think they’re finished this off-season, and I think they’ll try to upgrade the bench. They know the importance of depth, and never seem satisfied with just one option at any position. I’d expect them to make a few moves in this regard.

      I also think we’re going to see the prospects play a role here. Hanson, Moroff, Frazier, and Gamache are all interesting options who will begin the year in Triple-A and could jump to the majors at some point. But I think the Pirates could use other options beyond these guys, and will sign those options.

  • Agree Tim, and I think this is the year Polanco shines. I think Bell will be a nice surprise when he comes up to add a nice bat off the bench and help at first. I would still like to see them extend Cervelli and put together a trade for a solid starting pitcher. I still think they are working on a package to try and pry away a solid 2 or 3 pitcher that has a couple years of control left. Wouldn’t it be nice to see both Glasnow and Taillion come in and take the baseball world by storm. I don’t think the Pirates are even close to being finished. The quick, sexy deals are not always the best.

  • How many errors did Harrison have in 2015? Is it really a given that he is an upgrade over Neil Walker defensively?

    That said, I agree with most of what you’re writing there. A big key to the season will be at how well Polonco does. Another key will be how quickly Kang recovers from his injury The biggest wildcard is what ever addition is made at first base. It will also be important that they were plantation the bench.

    I am hating this off-season so far. The way I see it, the Pirates downgraded two infield positions, have a weaker pitching staff, and A week or bench. I’d say the bullpen is about the same, I don’t think either walker or Alvarez were all-star caliber players but they were definitely better than their replacements. The bench is much thinner now that Morse and Harrison are your starters.

    Last year the Pirates were a very deep team at nearly every position. I think the bench right now consists of Stewart and Broxton. Last year the Pirates pitching staff was strong at the top and above-average at the bottom. This year, the Pirates pitching staff is Cole, Liriano, and three number five pitchers. Am I missing anything? If the season were to start tomorrow, I don’t think the Pirates are a playoff team.

    Huntington has his work cut out for him. The easy thing to do this off-season would have been to sign the guys you had and add a few more pieces. Had he done that any improvement of Polonco would be “gravy.” As it is, he needs to add pieces to replace the ones he’s removed. He has definitely decided to go a more challenging route. I hope it works out for him. I am very anxious to see who is added at first base.

    • Harrison definitely had a bit more trouble defensively than he did in years past but I think (hard to multitask on a phone) most of then came at 3rd. Point we’ll taken though, I think him being an everyday 2nd baseman hurts the team overall.

      I’m a bit more bullish on the pitching staff though, between Neise, Morton, Webster and Nicasio, I think one of then will emerge as a decent starter…it’s just too hard not to give the pirates the benefit of the doubt with pitchers given their recent track record. Although if I was to play the pessimist, I’d say my biggest concern is how much longer will liriano keep pitching like a number two guy…

    • I don’t think the Pirates are close to being finished yet. I think that they might expect some help from the minors this year (finally, lol) and NH is still working on some trades. I disagree that they have 3 number 5 starters. I think Niese is a very strong number 4 who could perform like a 3 on the right team. I think most teams would be happy with Morton as a 5 and I would put Locke in the bullpen, unless he surprises us this spring. Taillion, Bell and Glasnow are coming, which will definitely help. I am still holding out for a significant trade of Melancon and some prospects to land a solid number 3 pitcher.

      • Niese doesn’t miss many bats. (5.5%) I hope he works out, but add, the bucs changed their way of doing things. A 4-5 starter making 9.5m is as bad as Morton making 8m.

    • I think it’s more than fair to question Harrison’s possible defense at 2B. He’s certainly athletic enough for the position, but there’s probably more nuance to the middle infield positions than any on the diamond other than catcher. The little things that made Mercer>Walker a fantastic double play combo. Coverages on shifts and steals. That intuitive half step in one direction or another that saves a ball from getting through the hole.

      He’ll be better than Walker, as just about anyone will be better than Alvarez, but I think that’s a dangerously low bar to be shooting for now that Huntington’s plan of doubling down on ground balls and defense has become apparent.

      • Good points. Jayhey will have more range than Neil (duh) but will need to prove he can turn the dp and be as reliable as Walker. I think he can but he needs to prove it.

      • Must take into consideration the impact two very weak throws Walker made on the plays Mercer and Kang were injured in when evaluating Walker’s defense. IMO, both times he was primarily at fault.

        • Ohhh he went there!

          • Someone email DK and give him the tip that Kang and Mercer are rumored to have hated Walker after those plays and its why he was traded. He cant actually run with that story…..right?

      • The other issue with Harrison is that Walker had really sure hands…I’ve seen Harrison drop throws from the catcher when attempting to apply a tag both at 2nd and 3rd (throws from the outfield when attempting a tag). I do think you’re right about the nuance of the infield and I do have concerns.

    • No need to judge the offseason in December. Plenty of moves will be made between now and ST to give us a clearer picture of the roster.

      • Didn’t say they were done. I said I hate what the’ve done so far.

      • Exactly, the winter meetings are a five-day span.

        I don’t exactly recall all kinds of doom and gloom predictions because the Pirates didn’t fill out the roster from Nov. 30th – Dec. 4th.

    • He’s got about a thousand times more range, so its now really his ability in turning DPs. He’ll be fine with throws and range, his ability to turn a smooth DP will be what takes him from average to whatever his upside could be.

      • Don’t underestimate Jared’s point above about consistency, either. For all of Walker’s faults with range, guy never missed the plays he was supposed to make. Harrison has a checkered past in that regard.

        • Oh for sure, Harrison wont be any gold glover.

          All things considered, he’ll be better than Walker though. Wont be as smooth with a DP, might muff a play or two, but overall better.

          • Harrison had 17 errors last year. It’s true that only 2 of those were at 2nd but he only played 37 games at 2nd. In contrast, Neil had 7 errors last year and has averaged 6 errors a year for his career.

            Don’t get me wrong. Overall I like Harrison as an every day second baseman just as much as Walker. They are different players and they bring different things to the table. I just don’t think it’s a given that he is a better defense of player. I actually think he’s not.

            • 37 games….2 errors…comes out to about 8 then.

              Add in the increased range and he’ll prove better than PRNW in the field? His career UZR is positive while PRNW’s is negative. Fielding pct is not the ‘end all/be all’.

              Let’s hope?

              • Not sure you can draw that conclusion. Is it really easier to catch and throw at 2nd vs 3rd where he had 9 errors? Remember he had a short season last year too. 17 errors total is a lot of errors.

                • “Is it easier to throw at 2nd” without a doubt. Different throws, but less distance on nearly any throw. Hardest throw will be if he ranges to his left, turns, and throws to 2B.

                  Using errors is a flawed way to measure his worth overall. He wont be great, but there isnt anyone who actually thinks he’s gonna throw out 20 errors at 2B.

                  • Not arguing with you. I never said he would have 20 errors. I just said I don’t think he will be a defensive improvement over Neil and pointed to his errors as one reason I think that.

                    • Yeah, but thats using 17 errors (so roughly 20) as a big reason why you think he’s basically Walker.

                      But you dont think he’ll have 20 errors, so im confused. If you dont think he’s likely to have that many errors, he’s clearly better overall than Walker.

                    • I don’t worship at the alter of advanced metrics the way many of the posters here seem to. I watch a lot of games and go by what my eyes tell me. My eyes don’t tell me Harrison is “clearly better”

                      Harrison is faster and has greater range so he’ll get to more balls but I don’t think he catches or throws the ball as well as Walker and I think he doesn’t see the ball as well off the bat. Sometimes he breaks the wrong way. I would be surprised if he didn’t have 10 to 15 errors at 2nd next year. Offensively he has less power but is a better base runner. I also think he is a clutch player for whatever that’s worth. So I think they are equivalent players.

                      As an aside, I think you lose Harrison’s flexibility by making him your every day second baseman and overall, I wonder if that isn’t a loss to the team.

                    • From a standpoint of defense at 2B, its not even really advanced stats or worshipping them.

                      He’s got more range, and a fine arm. He’ll benefit from the shifts that Walker also got help from, so the really only area to worry about is turning DPs. He’d have to be awful at it to lose all the bump in value he gets over Walker’s range, which tanks his value.

                      Your eyes have to really hate any error made to dislike Harrison that much, because lack of range isnt always seen in every play but alters this discussion a ton. Walker let many hits by that Harrison wont.

                    • Whatever you say.

                      It’s a fact that Walker played in 151 games last year and had 7 errors. Harrison played in 115 games and had 17 errors. By any measure, that’s an alarming number of errors. Yet you and others are arguing that he is “clearly better” as a defensive. player. I’m not seeing it.

                      To me calling Harrison a upgrade on defense makes as much sense as saying that Alvarez would be a better first baseman than third baseman even though he never played there before because he wouldn’t have to throw. Wonderful idea in theory but not necessarily true in reality.

                      I get that Neil Walker isn’t a gold glover, but defense isn’t really Harrison’s strength and he isn’t a gold glover either . His strengths are his offense, his effort, his speed, his ability to play multiple positions, and the way he seems to make the players around him better. I’m at Harrison fan, by the way. That doesn’t make him a better defensive player than Neil Walker who, by the way wasn’t that great a defensive player to begin with.

                      Time will tell one way or the other.

                    • I guess id point out that i could never move, only touch things hit right to me, and if i can throw the ball well finish with minimal errors.

                      Thats not all that different than Walker. His first step is slow, and his range is awful. Meaning he wont make a ton of errors, but he gives up a ton of singles that should be outs. Thus, your eyes say not terrible on defense but every stat that isnt errors and fielding percentage says he hurts your team.

                      Walker not being a gold glover isnt the point. Walker is one of the worst 2Bmen in baseball on defense, and he is already getting help from shifts. Harrison doesnt have to be a GG to be better, he needs to be average. His range+arm+hands show an average profile.

                    • We’ll have to agree to disagree. I think they are both average defenders at best and any improvement in defense attributable to Harrison will be minimal.

                      You can’t say Harrison has average hands when he makes an above average number of errors. If Harrison is better it ain’t by much. What you’re really saying is The Pirates plan is to make the team better by improving team defense. The plan to improve team defense is to replace a guy who is slow with limited range with a guy who’s fast but who can’t catch. Right?

                      That’s a wonderful theory. I just wonder how it will work out in reality

                    • I think you make basically all assumptions and do so by saying “i dont use advanced stats just my eyes”.

                      Thats fine, but its willfully admitting you dont care for key things in the discussion. Walker isnt near average on defense, and Harrison doenst have stone hands. Its not a theory, its shown out in their overall stats and scouting reports of their talent.

                      You went so far as to say Harrison cant catch, which is absurd. He’s not as sure handed as Walker, but he’s average. Josh Harrison isnt some fast dude who boots a ton of balls and cant catch. Pedro he is not.

                    • You are the one willfully admitting you don’t care about statistics like “errors” and “fielding percentage.” Harrison commuted errors in 15% of the games he played in last year compared to 4% for Walker and Walker had a slightly better WAR. If Harrison was such an obvious upgrade over Walker at 2nd why didn’t He replace him in the line up once he lost his job to Kang?

                      I absolutely agree that Harrison doesn’t have hands of stone if you can admit that Walker isn’t a statue. I’ll go further and admit that Harrison is tough to quantify because he played so many positions. All I said at the very beginning of this is that Harrison isn’t clearly a defensive upgrade. Cite a stat that proves otherwise. Time will tell.

                    • No, i actually am saying i care about them enough to realize they are flawed. All stats are flawed in some ways, but stuff like batting average and fielding percentage are flawed in big ways.

                      When you resort to “why didnt he replace Walker” it shows you arent actually being fair to the argument. He didnt replace him because Walker hits better, and Harrison off the bench made the team overall better. That doesnt make him suck on defense, it means his ability to play many spots helped him.

                      If you think Walker’s range=Harrison’s hands, you are wrong. Walker has near the worst range in baseball at his spot. That cant be said of Harrison’s hands.

                      UZR, UZR/150/DRS. All stats showing clear answers, but you built in a clear method of arguing those with “you dont like those stats”. Which is fine, but if i did that with offense and just looked at batting average id pick some stupid hitters as “good”.

                      Harrison wont be great, could be average, but average is a clear cut upgrade over Walker. You have to assume Josh Harrison will be one of the worst defenders at his spot to assume he isnt an upgrade over Walker. Because DRS, UZR, and UZR/150 all have Walker as bottom 5 of qualified 2Bmen two years running. Errors wont, because what little he got to he fielded well. But that doesnt make you an average fielder, since you are allowing tons of hits that you shouldnt. Its not an error, but his lack of range allowed free bases like an error more than 17 times.

    • I agree this off-season would be a disappointment if this was the final roster, but that’s not the way it works. It’s like saying the turkey is disgusting half way through its cooking. True but totally pointless.

  • If we look back on Pirates ’16 season as a success offensively, it will most likely be due to the OF carrying the load.

    Cutch can improve upon last year’s numbers if he for once got off to even a halfway decent start to the season. And Marte and Polanco should both be more consistent due to their experience. And they all, especially Marte and Polanco, can add some runs by stealing more bases.

    As for replacing Alvarez’s production, I think the numbers Tim referenced lie. How many times did we see Alvarez hit a solo HR that had no bearing on the outcome of the game, compared to the number of times he struck out with runners in scoring position in a closely contested game? Just seeing his RBI total compared to his HR total is all that’s needed to see he was a poor hitter w RISP yet again last year.

    • I really do think there could be hope for good production from the first base position if they get the right guy(s). I dont want Napoli. Either trade for Moreland and/or sign Lee. Maybe get both and use Morse off the bench. They need at minimum a power hitting 1B option and one option that has decent power coming off the bench.

  • As always another great article, curious who you think is the most important minor league player this season, Glasnow? Bell? Taillon?

    • Yes

    • I’ll throw in Diaz also. I just don’t think Cervelli will stay healthy

      • Why I ultimately think Diaz isn’t part of any trades this off-season. Very little depth at the position if he hits the DL.

    • Tim won’t answer, but I will. The two SP’s are far more important to the success of the team this season and foreseeable future than Bell.

      • I have a feeling they aren’t going to rush Taillon this year. Late July even a September call-up.

        • I think that is a distinct possibility considering how little competitive pitching he’s done lately. However, he may be thrust into an early call up if doing well and Pirates have injury or performance issues in rotation.

          • Ill be shocked if PGH allows big league struggles dictate how they move a premier prospect. If he isnt ready or they arent happy with where he is innings wise, id hope PGH doesnt feel they have to bring him up.

            • We can agree, NH won’t promote a top prospect who isn’t ready just because there’s an opening. But I said if he’s doing well he could be brought up to replace someone in rotation who is injured or not performing well.

      • I feel like the only difference between our answers was Bell.

  • Ideally I think the best scenario would be to pick up a new everyday 2B and move Harrison back to the supersub role.

    In thinking about who I’d want at 2B, I keeping coming back to Texas, and wondering if they could pry away Odor, given that Profar should be back this year. If they could net Odor they could afford to deal Hanson (either to Texas, or elsewhere to recover part of the cost for Odor). I’m sure there are other good 2B out there, too, but that’s the one that most interests me right now.

    • Think if they were to trade one of them it would be profar with the numbers odor put up last season.

      • Either way 🙂

        • Odor is very strong and got some unexpected opportunities when others in front of him were injured. He only played 30 games in AA before being promoted directly to the majors in 2014, and already has over 800 MLB AB’s during 2014 and 2015.

          The best 2B Prospect in AAA in 2015 was recognized by many as Jose Peraza who was traded from Atlanta to LAD last year and will be at 2B very soon for the Dodgers. Alen Hanson was honored by BA as the Best Defensive 2B in AAA in 2015. Some side-by-sides from Peraza and Hanson in AAA last year –

          P-481 AB’s .291 Avg, 13 Doub/8 Trip/4 HR, 42 RBI, 17W, 33 SB
          H-475 AB’s .263 Avg, 17 Doub/12 Trip/6 HR, 42 RBI, 37W, 34 SB

          Peraza played in 118 Games and had 22 errors.
          Hanson played in 117 Games and had 9 errors.

          A strong case can be made to go with JHAY at 2B, but, in 2 years we will have a 30 year old 2B making $10 mil. I think the Pirates can juggle enough opportunities to have both Hanson and JHAY in the IF in 2016.

          • Rougned is a ‘strong odor’???

            I love it!!!!

          • I agree with the idea of keeping JHAY in a superutility role and playing Hanson at 2nd. The only question is whether he goes north out of ST or in mid Summer. How Hanson performs in ST should determine that.

            • They wont, for great reason, have Hanson at 2B on OD. They might overlook Super 2 with him, but they’ll never lose a year of service time for 2 weeks as a rookie.

              • Yes, probably so. I was lumping those two together because given the length of the season they are essentially the same. Like Kris Bryant last year.

              • Good point Luke. Opening Day probably not, and they could probably do the same with Bell or Hanson as the Cubs did with Kris Bryant and the Phils did with Maikel Franco in 2015. Both were held out in AAA until they passed the date for a full year of MLB Service which is 172 Days. Bryant played 171 days and is therefore listed as having .171 years of MLB Service. If it was 172 days it would have been 1.00 yrs of MLB Service.

                Bryant and Franco currently have a grievance filed by the MLBPA against MLB over the practice. If you recall, Bryants numbers were off the charts in ST in 2015.

    • It’ll take someone like Meadows to get Odor

    • Harrison is better as an everyday player- so i disagree. We do however need a decent option at 2nd whom can start and not be a huge downgrade from Harrison as depth. We quite frankly can’t afford to go out and “pay” for another 2nd baseman right now that would be better than harrison considering our other needs, it just isn’t viable.