Everyone remembers the 2016 season as a year where the Pirates had a bad offseason, helping to lead to a losing season. They added Jon Niese, Ryan Vogelsong, John Jaso, and a few guys who actually worked out well, but were added for smaller bench roles (David Freese, Matt Joyce, Sean Rodriguez).
There’s never exactly one reason why a team has a losing season, but when assigning blame, there’s usually one reason that gets the focus. For that 2016 season, it was the offseason that gets the blame.
This does ignore some factors from that year. The Pirates saw almost every one of their key players fall below expectations, including Andrew McCutchen posting a 1.0 fWAR season, and Gerrit Cole posting a 2.5 WAR to lead the pitching staff, when he was projected for much more than that.
They also saw a lot of key injuries, including to Cole, limiting him to 116 innings. Francisco Liriano was a key member of the rotation, and he struggled to the tune of a -0.2 WAR, while also missing time. The pitcher with the most innings that year was Jeff Locke, with 127.1. That’s barely more than Jameson Taillon’s 104 innings, and he came up in early June.
The Pirates did have a bad plan and a bad offseason that year. It might not have mattered though. I can’t see a move, or a series of moves that would have overcome all of their injuries and poor performance. This doesn’t mean their offseason was suddenly good, or free from criticism. It just means that the year was a disaster from multiple fronts, ranging from the offseason plan, to the in-season injuries and performance.
The 2019 season is starting to shape up the same way. There can be, and has been plenty of criticism on the team about the offseason plan. I’m going to take a break from that for a moment to highlight just how much has gone wrong outside of that preseason plan.
As far as injuries go, the Pirates have lost the following players at times this year:
**All three of their starting outfielders
**Their two catchers who combined for the best catcher WAR in baseball last year
**Their second baseman missed a bit of time with back spasms
**Both of their shortstops from Opening Day, although this may have given them an upgrade with Cole Tucker
**The top two starters in the rotation, and the guys who were going to lead the team — Chris Archer and Jameson Taillon
**Two of the top relievers in the bullpen, Keone Kela and Kyle Crick, although Kela was struggling before the latest issue
That’s all in the span of one month, and almost represents a season’s worth of injuries. To their credit, the Pirates have held up pretty well with their depth, thanks to the addition of free agent Melky Cabrera, plus prospects like Bryan Reynolds and Cole Tucker. So it’s not like any move or moves would have overcome these injuries.
There are also performance issues, mostly on the offense. Current Pirates position players who have a negative WAR: Francisco Cervelli, Erik Gonzalez, Colin Moran, Elias Diaz, Jung Ho Kang, Gregory Polanco.
Those six players projected for an 8.3 WAR in my preseason analysis, using the ZiPS projections. At this point they need to put up a combined 9.4 WAR the rest of the season to reach that projection. The Pirates have seen some players exceed projections so far, but they need that group to step up, especially when the injuries are already reducing their projected WAR.
There’s hope. If you would have told me that this team would be 16-15 with all of these issues happening in one month, I’m not sure I would have believed it. The flip side of this is that when the team does get healthy, and when the struggling players turn things around, this team should be in much better shape. Of course those could be “if” statements and not “when” statements, and even if players return or turn things around, there’s no guarantee they reach the preseason projections.
The Pirates certainly didn’t have a good plan coming into the season. But regardless of their plan, I’m not sure any team can overcome the amount of injuries and poor performances that they’ve seen so far. If that changes going forward, then maybe we’ll see a better performance out of this team than just above .500 ball, and maybe we can get back to the offseason plan being the only thing to focus on with this team.
Today’s Starter and Notes: The Pittsburgh Pirates won 5-3 over the Oakland A’s in 13 innings on Sunday afternoon. The Pirates are off today, as they await the Texas Rangers, who come in for a quick two-game set. Steven Brault will get his first start of the season on Tuesday. He has made four relief appearances this year, pitching just 8.2 total innings all season. Brault has thrown just four innings since an appearance on April 8th. The Rangers are scheduled to send out Adrian Sampson, the former Pirates prospect, who threw 5.2 shutout innings against the Pirates on April 30th. He has a 3.58 ERA and a 1.34 WHIP in 27.2 innings this season.
The minor league schedule includes an early morning start time for Greensboro and an off day for Indianapolis. James Marvel gets the start for Altoona. In his last outing, he was throwing shutout ball until the seventh inning when he allowed three runs. Prior to that final inning, which included a bad/costly misplay in the outfield, he had thrown 20 straight shutout innings. Cody Bolton makes his first start after being named as our Pitcher of the Month for April. Among all starters for the Pirates, he ranks first in ERA (0.96) and third with an 0.86 WHIP. Batters are hitting .167 against Bolton. Greensboro will send out Nicholas Economos this morning. His 12.4 SO/9IP is the best among all starters in the system.
The full 2019 Pirates Prospects Prospect Guide is now available, up to date as of April 3rd, with every player in the minor league system. Includes full reports on the top 50 prospects, reports on over 150 other players, as well as looks back at the recent drafts and international signing classes.
MLB: Pittsburgh (16-15) vs Rangers (16-16) 7:05 PM 5/7
Probable starter: Steven Brault (8.31 ERA, 11:4 SO/BB, 8.2 IP)
AAA: Indianapolis (15-14) @ Scranton/WB (15-12) 6:35 PM 5/7 (season preview)
Probable starter: Rookie Davis (7.13 ERA, 19:11 SO/BB, 24.0 IP)
AA: Altoona (15-14) vs Bowie (7-23) 6:00 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: James Marvel (1.98 ERA, 29:5 SO/BB, 36.1 IP)
High-A: Bradenton (18-11) @ Clearwater (12-17) 7:00 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Cody Bolton (0.96 ERA, 29:7 SO/BB, 28.0 IP)
Low-A: Greensboro (19-10) vs West Virginia (17-11) 10:45 AM (season preview)
Probable starter: Nicholas Economos (2.08 ERA, 30:11 SO/BB, 21.2 IP)
From Bradenton, Calvin Mitchell’s fifth home run, with some stats behind it in the video
— Bradenton Marauders (@The_Marauders) May 4, 2019
Jason Delay continues his recent hot streak…
Another @jdelay5 RBI puts us on top early. That gives him four RBIs in the last 24 hours.
Curve 1, Richmond 0 ⬇️2️⃣ pic.twitter.com/YnREwFtIu7
— Altoona Curve (@AltoonaCurve) May 4, 2019
5/4: Jameson Taillon placed on injured list. Kevin Newman activated from injured list.
5/4: Pablo Reyes optioned to Indianapolis. Tyler Lyons added to Pirates.
5/4: JB Shuck designated for assignment. Pirates recall Dovydas Neverauskas.
5/4: Sean Keselica promoted to Indianapolis. Alfredo Reyes assigned to Altoona.
5/4: Blake Cederlind promoted to Altoona. Ryan Peurifoy assigned to Extended Spring Training
5/4: Nick Mears and Shea Murray promoted to Bradenton. Yerry De Los Santos and John O’Reilly added to Greensboro roster.
5/4: Drew Fischer placed on 7-day injured list.
5/3: Randolph Gassaway added to Bradenton roster. Michael Gretler assigned to Greensboro.
5/1: Connor Kaiser placed on injured list. Kyle Mottice added to Greensboro roster.
4/30: Starling Marte activated from injured list. Jason Martin optioned to Indianapolis.
4/30: Chase Lambert promoted to Bradenton. Raul Siri added to Greensboro roster. John Bormann assigned to Extended Spring Training.
4/30: Pirates release Ben Bengtson
4/30: Jose Osuna assigned to Indianapolis on rehab.
4/28: Oneil Cruz placed on injured list. Deon Stafford activated from injured list.
4/28: JT Brubaker placed on injured list. Dario Agrazal promoted to Indianapolis. Angel German added to Altoona roster.
4/27: Chris Archer placed on injured list. Pirates recall Michael Feliz
THIS DATE IN PIRATES HISTORY
Six former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date, including a member of the last World Series team. Before we get to them, one of the Pirates best known pitching performances happened on this date in 1951. Cliff Chambers threw the second complete game no-hitter in franchise history and first in 44 years. Facing the Boston Braves in the second game of a doubleheader, Chambers pitched the no-hitter despite issuing eight walks. He won 3-0 and managed to keep the Braves off the board, while only retiring the side in order three times. You can view the boxscore here.
The Pirates had two shortened no-hitters back in 1906-07, which at the time were official, but rule changes a little while back said that shortened games were no longer official. I’m of the belief that they should still count because under the rules of the time they were official and anything after the new rules were put in place would be the ones that didn’t count. In the case of Howie Camnitz’s no-hitter in 1907, it was agreed upon prior to the game, that the two teams would play five innings in the second game of a doubleheader. The other game was six innings by Lefty Leifield and it was called due to darkness.
Players born on this date include:
Alberto Lois, outfielder/pinch-runner for the 1978-79 Pirates. He played 11 games during the 1979 World Series winning season, all as a pinch-runner.
Dick Cole, infielder in 1951 and then 1953-56. Came to the Pirates in a trade for Cliff Chambers just over a month after the no-hitter mentioned above.
Earl Turner, catcher in 1948 and 1950. Hit .240 in 42 games. Only made 13 career starts.
Bob Chesnes, pitcher from 1948 until 1950. Pirates traded three players and $100,000 to acquired him from San Francisco of the Pacific Coast League.
Luke Boone, 1918 shortstop. Native of Pittsburgh, who collected over 2,200 hits in the minors.
Ed Karger, 1906 pitcher. He pitched just 28 innings for the Pirates. The following year, he threw a seven-inning perfect game in the second game of a doubleheader, with the two teams agreeing to seven innings prior to the game. It’s not actually considered an official perfect game despite the fact it was a complete game.