First Pitch: An Early Fantasy Baseball Look at the 2020 Pirates Starting Pitchers

It’s been a few years since I’ve played fantasy sports. That might change this year, as I’m trying to get back into one of my favorite parts of my favorite sport.

Paul Sporer at FanGraphs released his top 125 starting pitchers for 2020. I’ve always been better at identifying fantasy pitchers than hitters, so getting back into things, this is where I’d begin.

While scanning through the list, I took note of where the Pirates and Pirates-related guys were ranked. Here they are in order of where they are ranked:

4. Gerrit Cole – That stings.

13. Charlie Morton – One time I got stung by a bee twice in the same day. What are the odds of being stung twice in such a short time span?

23. Tyler Glasnow – I promise there are current Pirates players to discuss.

45. Joe Musgrove – He wasn’t who I’d expect to be the top guy, but it makes sense. He gets a good amount of strikeouts, has a low WHIP, and looks like he could be around a sub-4.00 ERA. I like a little more upside from this range of players, so I’d go with the next guy.

57. Mitch Keller – Call me a homer, but I’m targeting Keller in the middle rounds. I’m banking on the changes he made in the second half of 2019, adjusting his fastball usage down in favor of his curveball and new slider. Both breaking pitches have the chance to be plus, joining the fastball. He could also benefit from a new organizational pitching philosophy.

79. Jordan Lyles – How?

82. Josh Lindblom – Again, how?

85. Chris Archer – Forget the fact that he’s about 50 spots behind Glasnow alone. It’s even more shocking that he’s behind Lyles and Lindblom. I do like Archer as a sleeper play if he drops well past the tenth round. I think he also can benefit from a new organizational pitching philosophy.


Musgrove, Keller, and Archer are the fantasy-relevant Pirates starting pitchers. Of the three, I’d go with Keller. I always like getting young, high-upside pitchers before their breakout, when they’re available in the sixth round or later. Keller wouldn’t be the first pitcher I’d target, but definitely a sleeper to go for.

I mostly play in keeper leagues, and I’d imagine Keller would be much lower in a re-draft league. I’d still take him at or a few rounds above¬†his current average draft position, which is 291. In those re-draft leagues, Glasnow would be my 6th round target for a starting pitcher.

I think Archer is a sleeper as well. I’d want to wait until Spring Training to see how he’s doing. Honestly, it might be better to grab him early. If Archer looks good, that will be a huge story for the Pirates, and will probably drive his value up a bit before the season starts. I’m not saying Archer can’t drop lower than his current ranking, or continue to struggle. I just think he’s a value right now for early draft leagues, assuming he slips to around the 13th-15th round.

I do like Musgrove as a WHIP/ERA guy who can also contribute some strikeouts. Again, I think a new pitching philosophy will help. However, I think there’s more upside in the range he’s in.

Ultimately, the Pirates have late-round guys in this category, which really hurts when you see all of the former Pirates so high in the rankings. There’s going to be a lot of focus on Oscar Marin and the organizational pitching philosophy this year.




By John Dreker

One major trade made on this date and two former Pittsburgh Pirates were born on January 9th.

On this date in 1918 the Pittsburgh Pirates and Brooklyn Robins hooked up for a five-player deal that saw two future Hall of Famers change teams. The Pirates sent future HOF pitcher Burleigh Grimes along with fellow pitcher Al Mamaux and shortstop Chuck Ward to the Robins in exchange for second baseman George Cutshaw and outfielder Casey Stengel, the future HOF manager.

Cutshaw was 31 years old at the time of the trade and a veteran of six major league seasons, all with Brooklyn. He played 845 games during that time and was a .260 hitter with 350 runs scored, 360 RBIs and 166 stolen bases. He was a strong fielder who had led all NL second baseman in assists every year from 1914-16 and in putouts every season from 1913-16. In 1917 he finished second in both categories and third in fielding percentage. Stengel had also spent his first six seasons with Brooklyn, but he was just 27 years old. He started his first two years as a center fielder, then mainly played right field the last four seasons. He was a .272 hitter in 676 games with 292 RBIs and 77 stolen bases. During the 1917 season, he hit .257 with career highs with 69 runs scored, 73 RBIs and 60 walks.

Ward was a 23-year-old rookie in 1917 for the Pirates. He took over at shortstop for the Pirates after Honus Wagner moved to first base for his final season in 1917. In 125 games, Ward hit .236 with 43 RBIs, but made 50 errors at shortstop. Mamaux had a horrible season in 1917, going 2-11, 5.25, but he was just 23 years old at the time and had a combined 42-23 record the previous two seasons, winning 21 games each year. Grimes also had a poor season in 1917, finishing the year with a 3-16 record. He was 24 years old at the time of the deal and had made his debut in September 1916. The Pirates were giving up a lot of youth in the deal, but they were doing it with the hopes of improving on their dismal 1917 season in which they went 51-103.

Ward ended up playing five seasons in Brooklyn as a seldom used backup, getting only 111 games in during his time there. He hit .217 in 346 at-bats. Mamaux never had seasons quite like his two big years in Pittsburgh. He was 26-30 in six seasons in Brooklyn, although he did win 22 games during the 1919-20 seasons with a 2.67 ERA. Grimes was the key to the deal for Brooklyn, swinging the trade in their favor. He played nine seasons in Brooklyn winning 158 games, four times winning at least 20 in a season. Stengel lasted two years in Pittsburgh, playing 128 games in which he hit .280 with 55 RBIs. He was traded to the Phillies during the 1919 season for outfielder Possum Whitted. Cutshaw played four seasons in Pittsburgh, giving them strong defense at 2B and two good seasons at the plate. He hit .285 with 68 RBIs in 1918 and even though he played just 98 games, he hit .340 with 53 RBIs in 1921. The Pirates would get Grimes back in 1928 and he won a league leading 25 games that year. He followed that up with a 17-7 season in 1929. He also returned for a third tour of duty, finishing his career with the team in 1934.

Harley Payne, pitcher for the 1899 Pirates. Payne had three previous seasons of MLB experience prior to joining the Pirates, all with Brooklyn. He started his pro career in 1890 and spent his first six season in the minors, playing for nine different teams. He made his big league debut in 1896 and had a 14-16, 3.39 record for a bad Brooklyn team. His ERA actually ranked him eighth in the National League, so his record was more indicative of being on a tenth place team (12 teams in the NL that year). He followed up that rookie season with a 14-17, 4.63 record in 1897 as Brooklyn moved up to seventh place in the NL. Payne made just one start all season in 1898, which he won 9-8, pitching a complete game and going 3-for-4 with three RBIs. He appeared the next year on the Pirates roster, pitching the 15th game of the year. The team had a 4-10 record going into the game, but they won in 11 innings over the Louisville Colonels. Payne pitched a week later and took the loss against the Reds, then again two weeks later when the Phillies beat the Pirates 6-5 in ten innings. He made his final start a week later in a loss to the Baltimore Orioles. That was the end to his Major League (and pro) career, finishing 30-36, 4.04 in 80 games, 72 as a starter.

Ed Spurney, shortstop for the 1891 Pirates. His entire big league career lasted three games spread out over four days when he was 19 years old. From June 26th until June 29th, Spurney went 2-for-9 with a double and two walks and played all three games at shortstop. His only other known pro experience was playing for three minor league teams over the 1890-91 season, so his baseball career appeared to end as a teenager.

Tim started Pirates Prospects in 2009 from his home in Virginia, which was 40 minutes from where Pedro Alvarez made his pro debut in Lynchburg. That year, the Lynchburg Hillcats won the Carolina League championship, and Pirates Prospects was born from Tim's reporting along the way. The site has grown over the years to include many more writers, and Tim has gone on to become a credentialed MLB reporter, producing Pirates Prospects each year, and will publish his 11th Prospect Guide this offseason. He has also served as the Pittsburgh Pirates correspondent for Baseball America since 2019. Behind the scenes, Tim is an avid music lover, and most of the money he gets paid to run this site goes to vinyl records.

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