The Chicago Cubs. The LA Dodgers. The Pittsburgh Pirates.
Three teams lead the National League in runs scored heading into Thursday’s contests. Raise your hand if you had the Pirates competing with the top offenses in the league a few weeks into the season.
The Pirates return home to face the Cincinnati Reds this weekend, carrying a 12-7 record. They’re coming off a three game sweep of the Colorado Rockies, after splitting two games with the Cardinals on the road. It’s difficult to say at this point if the Pirates are actually a good team, or if they’re benefitting from beating up on bad teams.
For example, they just scored 33 runs in three games against the Rockies, which gave them a third of their runs on the season, and propelled them into Dodgers and Cubs territory. On the flip side, they gave the Rockies about 27% of their runs allowed this season in those three games, almost doubling the normal average of 5.6 runs per game allowed by Colorado.
The Pirates have fared well against teams with losing records. Their offense has stepped up. The pitching has kept pace to give a positive run differential. It’s too early to say if they’re a good team, or off to a hot start. There are three factors that I think point to the fact that this team might be the real deal.
The Depth Has Been Tested
Oneil Cruz went down early in the season, and will miss four months.
JT Brubaker will miss the entire season, and most of 2024.
Ji-Man Choi is currently out for eight weeks.
The Pirates have seen their fair share of injuries to start the season. What they’ve also seen is their depth rising to the occasion.
In the place of Cruz, Rodolfo Castro has been on fire. This year, the second baseman has a .319/.418/.511 line with two home runs in 47 at-bats on the season. He has a .346 average and an OPS of 1.068 in the last seven games, which has been largely with Cruz down.
Johan Oviedo stepped in the rotation to replace Brubaker. Through his first four starts, Oviedo has a 2.22 ERA in 24.1 innings — which includes a rough first outing of the year. In his three other starts, Oviedo has allowed two runs in 19.2 innings, with 21 strikeouts and four walks.
The Pirates entered the season with several first base options. Ji-Man Choi will now miss two months, but the fact that Connor Joe is hitting so well helps to mitigate this loss. Joe has a .340/.426/.596 line in 47 at-bats this season.
When you lose your most exciting young player, one of your most reliable starters, and one of your offseason additions to shore up a weak area, the expectation is that you won’t continue winning. The Pirates have seen the next man step up consistently, and haven’t seen a drop off in production, despite the injuries.
WINNING ON THE ROAD
If the Pirates were winning right now at PNC Park and losing elsewhere, things might be different. The fact is that they’re 9-4 on the road, and 3-3 at home. The latter record might get a boost with four games coming up against the Reds this weekend.
Bad teams can maintain winning at home. Good teams win on the road. In all of baseball, only the Braves have more road wins than the Pirates this year, with the Brewers tied for second.
This hasn’t been the case in the past. The Pirates have found silver linings at home, but have struggled on long road trips. I believe this is a mentality and preparation issue, which can be very easy to have for young players. It’s possible this could be the early effects of the veteran impact.
The Pirates are going up against the Reds this weekend, who are 1-5 this season on the road, and in last place in the NL Central.
A lot has been made about the good vibez coming from the clubhouse. Those are apparent to anyone who sees a Pirates hitter wielding a sword in the dugout after a home run, or to anyone who watches the team celebrate after a victory.
When a team is flowing with positive energy, they can overcome a lot. Expectations from the outside. Injuries. And bouncing back from a loss.
The Pirates lost the second and third game of the season to the Reds. Since then, they’ve played 16 games and have yet to lose multiple games in a row. That stretch has included a four game winning streak and a three game winning streak.
This team seems like it feels the wins and forgets the losses.
That’s a winning combo.
**Ke’Bryan Hayes might be starting to heat up. In the last seven days, the third baseman has a .360/.452/.640 line. Granted, all of the Pirates numbers are inflated after Colorado. What I love about his game right now is that he continues hitting the ball hard, with his 93.1 MPH average exit velocity ranking among the best in the game. His problem in the past has been a launch angle conducive to ground balls. Last year, his average angle was 5.2. This year? 14.0. With that velocity and that angle, we can expect more of these numbers. It’s Ke’Bryan Hayes breakout SZN.
**Speaking of depth, I mentioned how Rodolfo Castro has emerged in the place of Oneil Cruz. That would have left the bench short, but Mark Mathias has stepped in nicely for Castro. In seven games, Mathias has a .292/.370/.333 line.
**How about Colin Holderman as a standout in the early season? All he’s done so far is pitch eight shutout innings in eight appearances, all coming in the eighth inning of winning games. Holderman lives up to his name with five holds thus far. The Pirates needed someone to complement David Bednar, and by the early look of things, they’ve got a strong candidate here.
TODAY ON PIRATES PROSPECTS
Pirates Recap: Pirates Finish Coors Sweep With Blowout Win
Prospect Watch: Malcom Nunez Homers; Anthony Solometo Racks Up Strikeouts
**Ryan Palencer talked with top pitching prospect Quinn Priester, who feels his athleticism fuels his in-game adjustments on the mound.
**Yesterday, Anthony wrote about how the Pirates are getting more from Jack Suwinski by using him more strategically.
**On the injury front, Ji-Man Choi is expected to miss eight weeks. In the minors, Chris Owings and Abrahan Gutierrez both landed on the injured list.
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.
This team is fun to watch. Just about every game has been competitive.
420 related story.
We went to Opening Day for the very first time and it was a great experience. However, you could smell weed everywhere outside the stadium. We sat in section 144, my first time up there with the hope Cutch would start in RF. The nice part is that you can just walk down a short flight of stairs and you’re on the river walk, with some really good vendors and ample space to walk around. I think I was catching more weed smells than food smells. Medical Marijuana has been a game changer…any swinging dick can get a card. There’s also the Delta 8 stuff that you can buy and it has THC. Cops down at the stadium were walking right by dudes vaping the stuff and they don’t blink an eye. My employer stopped testing for THC a few years back. For all intents and purposes, the shit is legal.
About the only way you’d get me to eat Chickie and Pete’s crab fries were if there was an edible in there.
ya but to get a card, you’re now in the system as having a documented problem. you also are not allowed to conceal carry a firearm if you get the card. also anyone with a CDL has to pass the test with out it in their system.
I’ve heard from cops that they’ve been told not to enforce it anymore, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s “legal”
It’s BS that a naturally growing plant is not legal yet injecting chemicals into the blood is not only legal, but recommended. Guess the pHARMacuetical companies need income to pay for all these disgusting commercials.
I actually think there’s a better argument for making alcohol illegal over weed. I don’t think anything should be illegal, though.
What’s happening across this country today is legality is being delayed to allow for those big pharmaceutical companies to get in position to sell weed legally. I like VA’s system, where anyone can grow it at their home.
I don’t have the card, but I do smoke only occasionally, talking like 8-10 times per year. I don’t hunt and don’t own guns, and I don’t have a CDL. I just didn’t want to be on the list and I really have no need to carry a card.
Man, when I was in college it was all the time.
That’s why I never did it.
I’d probably trust you more with a gun if you were high
There’s a dispensary across from the stadium. This should have never been illegal.
I do not recommend Delta-8. Especially if you’re an all day, every day smoker like me. I had negative reactions.
You’ll never get Alzheimer’s. Maybe lung cancer but never Alzheimer’s
There’s a dispensary very close to the outlets in Grove City. Girlfriend was shopping and I decided to check it out. Staff in there was burnt out but they sold me on some Delta 8 gummies. I ate 2 and proceeded to have a panic attack for the next 4-5 hours. Went to bed after I thought it was over and had really bad nightmares. Terrible experience.
I don’t like edibles. They’re too inconsistent. You never know what feel you’re going to get and when and how long.
I ate a 100 mg chocolate bar the other day and didn’t feel anything for like 5 hours.
Yeah, a friend of mine had that same experience but by the time I got to his house he’d eaten the whole bag so I missed out.
One thing i noticed today is that the Bucs’ don’t have a position player or pitcher in the top 30 of both categories of WAR. Cutch & Joe lead with a .7 & Bednar leads with a .6.
One really weird thing while looking at the WAR is that Roansy has a .3 vs Mitch with a .2, whereas Mitch has more innings & has better rates & stats than Roansy, so I’m not sure how that’s possible.
Surprised Reynolds has actually gone down from 0.7 to 0.5 over past 10 days.
fWAR dings you for pitching well with men on base.
Couple other stats that surprise me when looking at the team:
Suwinski’s BABIP: .217
BRey’s BB%: 3.7
Castro’s Bsr: -.8
Santana’s Def: -2.7
Underwoods BABIP: .407
Coming into this season, it was expected be those who are paid for their expertise on professional baseball, for the Pirates to be one of the bottom feeders. Instead, in the first 6 series, they’ve been excellent against the non-elite teams they’ve faced, 9-3 vs CIN, BOS, CWS, & CO. And they’ve held their own, 3-4, vs the contenders, HOU & STL.
In case you don’t know it, this is a formula for making the playoffs.
Of course they’re not going to play .750 ball vs bottom 20 teams for entire season, but if they can play .550 +/- ball vs them and be a .475-.500 club vs other top teams, they will be legit contenders for winning the division, and almost certainly at least a wild card team.
Who says they won’t? A lot of bad baseball teams out there this year
The Snakes outright release Mad Bum. They remain on the line to pay him a bazillion dollars and any team can sign him for prorated league minimum.
I believe that we can open a roster spot by moving Ji Man to the sixty-day. What could it hurt to ask Mad Bum if he’d like to be part of a feel good story with Cutch and Santana, coming out of the bullpen for a year or two?
He’s a hump. No thanks.
I like your idea, I hate the player. I actually tuned in to his game yesterday hoping that he was hit hard, even though the other team are the Cards!
This is his 3rd season of ineffectiveness. His FB now tops out at less than 90 MPH. I’m afraid he would detract from the feel good story, not enhance it.
I’m not sure how long this is going to last but I am going to enjoy it.
The weak schedule to start the season may have the record inflated but the schedule is offset by so many road games. Bad teams don’t normally win on the road. When I looked at the schedule at the end of March, I thought that they would be buried in the standings by the end of April. Three in Boston, 4 in St. Louis, two series at home against Houston and LA. I was expecting 4 wins total from those series and they have already won 6.
Seasons like this, where just the absolute bare minimum effort into building an actual major league club produces an enjoyable product while strengthening the organization long term, is what they stole from us with this awful fucking rebuild.
Never, ever again.
And just where were they going to get 5 MLB caliber SP, A MLB ready BP, and enough depth to take flyers on guys like Choi, Joe, Cutch and Santana if they were not able to perform like they’ve been. (excluding Choi) If you havnt paid attention They did very well with Quintana and Anderson and they tried what they did this season with players like Todd Frazier, Ben Gamel, Yoshi, Vogelgbach, R. Perez, Andujar, This year, the signings of experienced players is working out where in the alt 2 seasons they didn’t. Couple that with more kids that the FO has acquired and/or developed being ready and there is your explanation.
NMR and the rest of us weren’t asking for 5 MLB caliber SPs (your words there). But we and fans were justified in asking more than what they provided.
Not a bad counterargument except you are leaving out the TOTAL middle-finger-to-the-fanbase ZERO upside signings of Dyson, Van Meter, Del Pozo, Erlin, Holland, JT Riddle, Poppen, Kai Tom, Marisnick et al.
The big difference is — with the exception of maybe Conner Joe — most of us here saw intriguing upside with the off-season, high-OBP veteran acquisitions and a recipe for success especially with shift restrictions. Even #22 was seen as more than a sentimental signing.
The past years were not a good-faith effort to be competitive. NMR is on the money
I didn’t leave that out. It was addressed in where were the rest coming from? There arent tons of productive players signing 1 year deals. This year we have the kids instead to supplement. I was more clear on the comment about the SP but i think it’s apparent either way. This year we have Roansy and Oviedo in addition to Keller being home grown and ready. For position players there is Ngiba-smith, Suwinski, Cruz, Marcano, Castro, Tswag, Nunez, and more either contributing or ready for a shot. Even the kis that played last year would have been well served with some time at AAA which many got.
I don’t know, each rebuild is different. For 2020-2022 it would have taken 10’s of millions to put together a decent starting rotation. To get a decent starter you typically have to do something like 2yrs/20mil or 3/24 (?). And then you have to find someone willing to come to Pittsburgh for a “rebuild”, so you have to outbid other clubs. And we needed to sign 3-4 good starters those years. This year is working so far because we have a very cheap but good (?) staff. Keller/Contreras/Oviedo are very cheap, Velasquez is cheap at 1yr/3mil, our depth is cheap, and Hill shows how much you have to pay to get someone decent for 1 year (8 million, and he is 43).
The Red who we play next are interesting, because they have three cheap good starters, but because of past contracts they are still paying for, I guess, they didn’t try to get two more starters, and instead stayed in “rebuild” mode. That seems a bit insulting to their fans.
Hit the nail on the head, but you have to quit trying to beat around the bush.
OK, I agree 100%, but were the kids ready in 2021 or 2022? Hard to say, but that is how a rebuild goes – you pay your dues with inexperienced kids and if you have the right kids and you have brought them along properly, it will not hurt their development – in fact it may be a long term benefit to their development. If you are a “ballplayer” you seek this type of challenge, not run from it!
No doubt playing with veteran supportive leadership like ‘Cutch, Santana, Choi, Hedges, Hill, etc. has been a benefit to this present group and the 3 or 4 others who will make their way to PNC around the trade deadline.
I hear you buddy, but the thing is, “playing the kids” has gotten us absolutely nothing!
Nothing at all of value. Not a single future impact big leaguer who wouldn’t have had every opportunity to succeed on a club that was actually trying to build a legitimate roster.
Their entire organizational strategy will have to change from here forward anyways. The overarching strategy of the rebuild is nowhere near sustainable on competitive teams.
And in my estimation, nothing of value has been gained that couldn’t have already been instituted.
This has been a money grab, which is the primary intent of all rebuilds.
This, x 1000. There’s no rule that says you can’t at least make the major league product interesting while working on the minor league product.
There was a time when this was a holiday for my buds (pun intended) and I. I can’t remember what the reason was why I stopped.
I hope the Pirates are good or at least play an exciting season. I don’t live in Pittsburgh any more but it appears the Pens are on a down trend. A fun Pirates team could build up the fan base. And I enjoy the message boards/being a fan much more when they are winning. Doesn’t have to be 14-2 every game. I also hope the Pens turn it around and we have three exciting pro teams.
Well you know, one of the things affected by the buds is short term memory and………uh………….um…..I can’t think of it right now…………….
Hate to quibble during such a great run but one change I’d like to see is CSN not starting anymore vs righties with Choi out. I’d rather see Bae in CF and Marcano at 2b.
I’d send CSN down. Not giving up on him, but let’s get him right in Indy and maybe bring up Swags to take a whack at this thing again. Have him start against righties 2x per week? Basically take all of what CSN offers now, plus he can come in late in games for Joe when we are up by couple and we want better defense to close it out.
And for the love of god, actually provide him with hitting development this time.
Their YOLO strategy is so godd*mn frustrating.
I’m just some jag on the internet and I could tell – I did tell – that he was destined to fail. That swing simply does not work, and nothing has been done to overhaul it.
Right. And he has such natural talent and a good eye-I am sure that he would take to some tweaks, its not too late.
Exactly my thought, and same applies to Kebryan.
I don’t have much confidence in his launch angle “improvement” because it hasn’t come with a swing change and it’s largely due to poorly hit balls at the upper end dragging the average upwards.
Just 2 of his 32 hard hits balls have been at optimal angles.
Apologize if I aleady posted this but
Pirates lead league in quality starts with 11
28th in 2022 with 38
LAST in 2021 with 25
9 in a row…can Ro make it 2 turns through the rotation?
Crazy to even think about.
I also noticed that so far this season the errors and walks aren’t leading to big innings for the opposing teams which is a tribute to the improved pitching.
yeah the defense has been totatlly overlooked due to the offense and pitching, but they have been really clean so far.
happy 4/20 Tim!
All great points, hope you continue being right!
This has been great, and my optimism is growing although guarded. The encouraging thing is that if we play .500 ball for two months or so, the holes the team has will likely be filled, not by trades, but by the minors. Fingers crossed!
Great article Tim.
I’d also add the expected stats for the offense are very good. 5th best xwoba in mlb so far.
a good team? Heck, I’ve already put tape on the sidewalk to reserve my spot for the parade!!!
I’m already taking bets on pierogi race winners for the World Series.
What, no more chairs? Or is that just to reserve parking spaces in Pittsburgh?
One thing that stands out to me is 10.1% bb rate for the team. The approach is fantastic and they’re just grinding opposing teams down.
I really think they have something here with Suwinski. Wouldn’t surprise me at all if he is >3 fWAR.
Give me a few more weeks before I can say the same about Rudy. Not quite there with him yet.
Circling back to my original statement – Cherington said he wanted guys who got on base – Cutch 15.3 bb%, Joe 11.1%, Santana 11.5%
Amazing how fast Andy Haines has improved, am i rite?
I’m not going to poke the bear on that one again.
I’m the exact opposite, I’m not there with Suwinski but feel Castro is going to be a good player.
Yes, I think that Jack might be just a part-time/platoon player. Nothing wrong with that, but they have protected him very well. On the other hand I have been cautiously optimistic about his approach, and especially the eye test vs. lefties.
Strong side of a platoon still gets 70% of the ab’s
Yep, I like what he brings in that spot. And look, his BABIP is probably 120 points below league average, so there is still some meat on the bone. Could he end up being 3-4 WAR player? Gives me chills to think about that on this team….
It is WAYYYYYY too early to even suggest that we can keep this up. There have been many depth players who have gotten hot over a short period of time as injury replacements. From my youth I remember Dick Hughes (for Bob Gibson) and Ducky Schofield (for Dick Groat).
While I am enjoying the current state of the team, we have well over 80% of it left.
It’s only been an eighth of the season, you’re right.
That said, I put a lot of faith in an eighth of anything on this date.
All I am saying is “enjoy it while it lasts”. Will it last? NOBODY knows, but I wouldn’t put more than a 6 pack of your favorite beer on them finishing over .500. 😁😁😁
It’s Bucs and Buds night! Some fine smoke in the right hand, a summer shandy in the left and our battling Bucs steam rolling the Reds. Feels good to enjoy some good baseball in the Burgh
I don’t think anyone thinks that they are going to win 99 games or whatever a 12 and 7 start equates to. After 3 years of tanking and 2 miserable years before that, this team is fun to watch.
I couldn’t agree more with what you wrote. And don’t misinterpret what I wrote. I a, essentially saying the same thing!
Tim, do you have any thoughts about the particular pitches the team is hitting hard? I find added encouragement in their (so far) improved swing decisions AND that their getting 95+ MPH exit velocity on pitches that are not necessarily middle middle. They don’t chase out of the zone, but they can still do damage when a pitcher is locating on the edges of the zone.
And on top of that some guys are doing damage out of the zone. Some guys pulling their hands in on inside pitches, or Santana ripping a ball that was up at eye level this past game. A lineup doing all of these things is basically a nightmare. How much do you think is sustainable?
this is just a small thing on the periphery of this whole discussion, and won’t be the reason why the season sinks if it sinks, but i think we all need to continue to manage Castro expectations.
Almost all of the damage hes done in his career has been to left handed pitching. His ops vs lefties is over 1.200 this yr. His ops vs righties is a respectable .725, however that’s fueled by a .421 babip. Further evidence of his lack of comfort vs righties is his .071 ISO vs them.
That said, it’s not like there’s some guy who mashes righties who is ready to go – that guy is on the IL right now. Bae’s not hitting too well. mayyyyybe you give Tucupita some runway to experiment vs most RH starters?
i’m not necessarily calling for Castro to have a platoon partner. There’s something to be said for “finding out” what castro can do over these few months, even if it’s not operating at 100% win efficiency, and also like i said there’s nothing really better than him at the moment unless they wanna give Tucupita some AB vs RHP (they DO have to find out about him as well). I’m just calling for us to manage expectations. Hopefully he destroys lefties so much that he can still manage to be an above average hitter.
Toward the end of my HS playing days, I experimented with switch hitting (only in baseball, you pervs!). I am a natural RHH. Seeing decent curveballs from pitchers (mostly righties) was my motivator.
Putting my dominant eye forward improved my ability as a LHH to barrel the ball. But my swing was completely different. I just didn’t have the strength in my top hand to hit with the same power as when I connected RH’d. I wonder if something similar is happening with Castro? I don’t know if his whiff rate is any better from either side, but it’s clear that, thus far, he has more power as a RHH.
something we may forget but Castro does bring with him some pedigree and scholarship because he is the first product of our Dominican Facility investment.
many people want him to succeed for many reasons
Even back to last year, Castro’s power/overall numbers were so much better against LHP iirc. I wonder if it has to do with the handedness of the pitcher or if hes just a better hitter from the right side and should solely focus on that? Im not sure I have a solid answer
the world may never know.
and he’s 23! he’s allowed to not be a perfect player. he seems to have all the grit and determination necessary for me to think that he’ll be passable vs RHP someday.
and going back to the whole “find out” about him thing. maybe a 3 month stretch of getting those AB will help him be passable vs righties long term.
For most of his minor league career he was better against RHP’s than LHP’s. Then at A+ in 2019 he hit LHP’s much better than RHP’s. Then in 2021 at AA he hit RHP’s much better than he did LHP’s, then a brief time at AAA where he hit LHP’s better than RHP’s. That continued into 2021 at AAA.
There are probably numbers somewhere that would explain all of that first paragraph, But, all I know is that he is a ballplayer with an excellent work ethic.
It is said often to compete for the playoffs you have to beat the teams you are supposed to beat. If the Pirates beating the bad teams means the Pirates can claim they are one of the better mediocre teams then that in itself is good progress. Repeating what many have said, I am enjoying the ride while it lasts. There will be bumps along the way but this is fun.
It is fun and in the first season where BC actually broke camp with youth. Cruz, Castro, Bae, Suwinski, CSN, Contreras, Oviedo, Jose – almost 31% of the Active Roster. There will definitely be others coming in during the season, and I sure hope we continue to bring the youth!
If BC plays his cards right, the Pirates will have a lot of callers if we are Sellers at the Trade Deadline. Yes, that took a lot to say “if we are Sellers”, but I wanted to get it out while I still can.
I want to take a page out of the Rays book and be “sellers” AND “buyers” at the deadline. Like maybe a haircut on areas that we feel good about the minor leaguers coming up/depth (ie Hedges, Choi when healthy, Hill, Velasquez), but then buy on maybe a premium pitcher on an expiring contract. Don’t touch Cutch or Santana-they seem to be the heart of this dugout. But I also don’t want to lose out on opportunity for reward as a few of these guys might build up some value on a winning team. Can we walk the razor’s edge to not disrupt a great team, but still work some trades on the seller’s ledger?
Great info on Ke’Bryan Hayes and the increase in his launch angle to 14 up from 5.2 last year. Remember Al Oliver? That was the “knock” on him also – hitting line drives that knocked down the fence rather than going over the fence! Love the job Rodolfo Castro and Ji-Hwan Bae have done solidifying the MI/Util. Marcano and Mathias have also pitched in.
Agree that none of us would have predicted the hitting, pitching, or overall defensive numbers being posted by the Pirates, and especially not after losing Oneil Cruz so early. But, hell, we are Pirate fans and deserve a little of this. Really appreciate the strong starts at the plate and in the leadership of this team provided by ‘Cutch, Reynolds, Santana, and Joe.