Wednesday, March 6, 2013

2013 MLB Preview #24: Pittsburgh Pirates

Greetings! We can build on this...

Projected Starters - Russell Martin (C), Garrett Jones/Gaby Sanchez (1B), Neil Walker (2B), Clint Barmes (SS), Pedro Alvarez (3B), Starling Marte (LF), Andrew McCutchen (CF), Travis Snider (RF)

Andrew McCutchen is, simply, one of the best players in baseball right now. In 2012, McCutchen went for a .327/.400/.553 slash line with 31 homers, 107 runs scored, and 20 steals. That's pretty incredible, and while the batting average will probably regress a bit (.375 BABIP last year), he's an elite player to anchor this team's future around. After that, Neil Walker put up another solid year in 2012 (.342 OBP, 14 homers from 2nd base) and while he's not a star (and won't be), that's above-average production from that ghastly position. Pedro Alvarez is certainly the key here, as their former #1 prospect who hit 30 homers last season. The issue with Alvarez is contact, as he struck out 180 times in 586 PA's (yikes) and it murders his on-base percentage in the process. They need a 30-35 homer season from Alvarez to provide pop in an otherwise pop-less lineup. Travis Snider, Garrett Jones and Gaby Sanchez all have severe platoon split issues, but if they are managed well, it could be a net-positive lineup. Be on the look-out for the always-entertaining Clint Barmes, who can really field, but is a complete mess at the plate. Don't believe me? His career OBP is .298 and in 2012, his OBP was .272. That's borderline incredible for a full-time player.

Projected - James McDonald, Wandy Rodriguez, AJ Burnett, Jeff Karstens, Francisco Liriano/Jeff Locke

When the Pirates got off to a blazing-hot start in 2012, it was because of their pitching, and they'll be the key once again. AJ Burnett submitted the best overall season last year, with 202 innings of a 3.51 ERA that was good for a 3.4 WAR. I'm skeptical that he can keep his walk-rate down (2.76 per 9 last year, 3.70 career), but he'll be solid at worst. McDonald has the highest upside of anyone in the rotation, and he was absolutely tremendous in the first half last year before falling off. Through 110 innings last year, his ERA was 2.37, but in the final 61 innings, his ERA was over 7.00. The biggest key to this rotation is which McDonald will be on the mound, and it's that simple. Wandy Rodriguez is ultra-solid, and while he isn't the same "upside" guy that he used to be in Houston, it's reasonable to expect solid #3 starter production (I'm thinking 200 innings with an ERA in the mid-to-high 3's). Karstens doesn't strike anyone out, but you could do worse in the 4-spot. The X-factor (besides McDonald)? Francisco Liriano was inked in the off-season and no one has any idea how he'll pitch. The former Twins ace has been either wildly effective (6.0 WAR in 2010) or awful (2.9 WAR combined in 2011 and 2012) and there's injury concern. Honestly, I have no idea what to expect, but I'd lean toward the negative.

Projected - Jason Grilli (closer), Mark Melancon, Tony Watson, Jarod Hughes, Justin Wilson, Bryan Morris

The Pirates jettisoned former closer Joel Hanrahan to Boston (which I liked, because they aren't contending anyway) and that left the reins to Jason Grilli. He struck out a ridiculous 13.8 batters per nine last year while putting up a 2.91 ERA over 58 innings. It's a really small sample, but if he produces like that, he's a top-end closer candidate. After that, it's a bit of a challenge. Melancon, the former Houston closer, has been a mess since leaving there, and there aren't a lot of proven options elsewhere.


It seems that we always say that Pittsburgh is a year or two away... but they are a year or two away. They have some prize pitching prospects on the way (Cole and Taillon), but this year's staff isn't scaring anyone. If McDonald puts a full year together and Liriano hits, they could semi-contend for a wild card spot, but it's pretty aggressive to predict that, so they land here.


74-88, 4th in NL Central

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