Hidden Vigorish

Detailed Analysis of The Pittsburgh Pirates

Good Bye Super Russ

Russell Martin has made his decision. He won’t be returning to the Pirates. Yesterday he agreed to a 5 year $82 million contract with the Blue Jays. That is a whopper of a deal that the Pirates had no hope of matching. Good for Russ. He played two terrific seasons in Pittsburgh to position himself for this mega-deal. Martin leaves Pittsburgh as a beloved player. He was an elite defensive catcher that oozed intangibles. In 2014 he also put up a career year offensively. The Pirates made the playoffs both seasons that Russell Martin played for them. That in itself speaks of Martin’s impact. This was a team that had posted 20 straight losing seasons prior to Russ’s arrival. As a tribute to Russell, here is the moment I will most remember him for. This dramatic three run blast off of Brewers’ reliever Jonathan Broxton in the 8th inning on 9/19/14 gave the Pirates a come from behind victory over the team that was chasing the Bucs in the Wild Card Standings.

 

 

GM Neal Huntington Not Wasting Time This Offseason

We are barely two weeks into the MLB Hot Stove Season and Pittsburgh Pirates GM Neal Huntington has already pulled the trigger on two major moves. On November 12th the Pirates acquired catcher Francisco Cervelli from the Yankees in exchange for pitcher Justin Wilson. Cervelli and backup catcher Chris Stewart make for a decent tandem that should give the Pirates at least a competent performance behind the dish in 2015. Although Cervelli won’t entirely make up for the loss of Russell Martin, he will make up for some of it. Cervelli rates well defensively. He is an above average pitch framer and the pitchers he has worked with in the past have raved about his game calling skills. He is not at Martin’s level when it comes to throwing out base stealers, but few catchers are. Cervelli can also hit a little bit. He has a career OPS of .729. Last season he posted a triple slash line of .301/.370/.432 in 49 games with New York. Solid numbers for a catcher for sure, albeit in a small sample. The biggest concern with Cervelli is staying on the field. He has missed games with a variety of ailments, most notably a broken hand and a hamstring strain. He also served a 50 game suspension for being linked to PEDs in the Biogenesis scandal. Cervelli has some warts, but he is a much better option for the Pirates than being stuck with no alternative than to hand the job to Tony Sanchez.
 
A few days after trading for Cervelli the Pirates then were reunited with an old friend when they signed free agent pitcher A.J. Burnett to a 1 year $8.5 million contract. Burnett signed with Philadelphia last off season after two years with the Pirates in which he posted a 26-21 record and a 3.41 ERA. A.J. found that the grass wasn’t as green on the other side of the state. The Phillies were a bad team and Burnett struggled as he pitched through a hernia all season. Burnett decided he didn’t want to finish his career on a team with no playoff hopes, so he declined his $12.75 million option to return to the Phillies in 2015. Burnett essentially took a $4 million pay cut because he wanted to return to the Pirates. I’m sure that went a long way in repairing any bridges that had been burned from his spat with manager Clint Hurdle over being passed up to pitch in Game 5 of the 2013 N.L.D.S against the Cardinals and from his indecision over whether or not to retire. Both Burnett and the Pirates had some differences that needed to be reconciled to pave the way for his return. That it happened at all is surprising. That it happened so quickly is almost unfathomable.
 
That is really the story of both of these moves from the past week. Neal Huntington is not wasting any time to improve the club. He is not allowing other players/teams to dictate the timing of his moves. This is a huge departure from how he approached things last year. Last off season Huntington allowed himself to be hamstrung waiting on A.J Burnett to decide if he was going to retire or not. Instead of aggressively pursuing a Plan B and a Plan C he kept money aside to sign A.J. Burnett. That money never got spent. This offseason has been the complete opposite. Although Huntington would like to resign Russell Martin and Francisco Liriano he wasn’t going to allow their decisions to leave him empty handed. He got a replacement catcher and a replacement for the starting rotation that make for good Plan B’s. And he still has money available and plenty of time left in the offseason to make more moves to improve the club.
 

Getting Defensive Over Catchers

It is less than a week into free agency and it is clear that the suitors for former Pittsburgh Pirates catcher Russell Martin are wasting no time in lining up. Martin has already met with the Cubs, and he has plans to meet with the Blue Jays and the Dodgers later this week. With all of these large market clubs that are flush with clash coveting the 31 year old backstop, the hopes that the Pirates can retain him are dwindling. Martin is going to get a huge pay day from some team. That team should not be the Pirates.
 
Russell Martin had an impressive season offensively in 2014. To a large degree that was a mirage. Martin is a smart professional hitter. But he is not a hitter that can be counted on to post an OPS of over .750, let alone reproducing the .832 OPS he had in 2014. That was largely the result of a ridiculously high BABIP of .336 that will surely regress next season. Martin will still be a solid hitter as far as catchers go, but only because the bar is very low for the position. League average OPS for catchers was just .701 in 2014. Going forward Martin is more likely to hit like he did from 2011 thru 2013. His OPS over that period was just .716. It is not Martin’s offensive projections that creates value in the eyes of the teams chasing him. It is his steady defensive production that has teams salivating over their chances of signing him. But is Martin’s defensive value something a team like the Pirates should be committing upwards of $60 million to?

 
Take a look at the following career totals of defensive stats for three current major league catchers in their early 30′s:
 

CS% Framing Runs per 7000 Blocking Runs per 7000
Catcher A 32% 17.9 1.4
Catcher B 38% 19.1 2.7
Catcher C 31% 21.3 1.1

 
These are three comparable defensive catchers. All three are well above average at throwing out base stealers, framing pitches, and blocking balls in the dirt. Two of the three were acquired last off season in trades. Two of the three have have salaries of less than $5 million. The other is Russell Martin.
 
Player A is Russell Martin
Player B is Ryan Hanigan
Player C is Chris Stewart.
 
Clearly a quality defensive catcher can be found without handing out an enormous multi-year contract. The Rays and Pirates did not have to trade any high end prospects to obtain Hanigan and Stewart last winter. So if defense is what you desire from your catcher why pay a premium for it on the free agent market? Martin does produce more offense than Hanigan and Stewart. But how significant is that boost in offense? It might be less than you think. In fact, over his career Hanigan has an on base percentage only slightly less than Russell Martin. Ryan Hanigan has a .353 career OBP versus .354 OBP for Russell Martin. If Martin were to hit like he did in 2014 then of course he would be much more valuable. However, we know that to be a pipe dream….just like the Pirates chances of ever signing a 31 year old catcher to a 4 year $60 million contract. It was never going to happen, so let’s not get defensive about it.
 

Why Did Pedro Not Bust Out Offensively?

It might not look like it, but Pedro Alvarez really did become a better hitter in 2014. He made huge strides in his plate discipline. Pedro took more walks and cut down on his strikeouts. He posted a career best 10.1 BB% and 25.4 K%. So why didn’t these improvements result in Pedro having a career year? The answer lies mostly with a decrease in his home run per fly ball rate. After two straight seasons of having an HR/FB rate over 25%, Pedro’s HR/FB dropped to 16.2% in 2014. Had he maintained an HR/FB rate of 25% he would have blasted 10 more home runs this season. What is interesting about Pedro’s dip in home run rate is that it came entirely from balls he pulled. His HR/FB on balls hit to CF and LF actually increased. In fact, they were the highest rates of his career. But fly balls that he pulled only left the yard 22.7% of the time this season. That was down from 66.7% in 2013 and 70.8% in 2014. In his career over 52.2% of the fly balls he has pulled have gone for home runs. So what we have is a player that had better plate discipline this season and got more out of the balls he hit to the opposite field, but couldn’t yank a ball into the right field seats. That just seems like an anomaly that is bound to correct itself. If Pedro’s improved plate discipline can hold next season that offensive explosion could still happen.
 

Gather Around the Hot Stove Pirates Fans

Now that a new World Series Champion has been crowned we can put the 2014 MLB season in the books and officially begin the Hot Stove season. What is in store for the Pittsburgh Pirates this offseason? Will it be quiet like last year, or does GM Neal Huntington have some surprises up his sleeve? Let’s get started with the questions the Pirates must answer before Spring Training begins in February.
 

First Order of Business – Will they extend qualifying offers to Russell Martin and Francisco Liriano? The Pirates have until November 3rd to extend qualifying offers to their pending free agents. The qualifying offer this year is worth $15.3 million. Martin is a lock to be offered a QO. Liriano is a bit more iffy, but I’m already on the record as saying the Pirates should extend the QO to him as well.
 

Biggest question of the offseason – How aggressively will the Pirates push to retain Russell Martin and will it be enough to sign him? The Pirates would really like to bring Martin back, but as the only quality catcher on the free agent market the bidding for his services will be fierce. If the Pirates are going to sign Martin it will likely take in the neighborhood of $60 million over 4 years to do it.
 

Second biggest question of the offseason – What to do at the 1B position? Who’s on first seems like an annual question every winter for the Bucs. The Pirates have used a platoon at 1B for several seasons, and that probably won’t change in 2015. Pedro Alvarez‘s throwing issues at 3B in 2014 forced the team to try him out at 1B. If he is going to have a future with the Pirates it will be as the left-handed hitter in the 1B platoon. However, the Pirates still have Ike Davis to occupy that role. It is hard to foresee the Pirates retaining both Ike and Pedro. One of them is likely to be dealt this offseason. Pedro has refused to play Winter Ball in the past. I think he should play Winter Ball this year to work on learning how to play 1B. If he refuses that could impact the Pirates decision.
 

Everything else….

Which arbitration eligible players will the Pirates tender? John Axford and Jeanmar Gomez have already been let go leaving the following list of arbitration eligible players the Pirates must decide if they will tender: Neil Walker, Mark Melancon, Ike Davis, Pedro Alvarez, Tony Watson, Josh Harrison, Vance Worley, Chris Stewart, Jared Hughes, Gaby Sanchez. The Pirates are likely to tender all of these players, although they may try to shop one or two of them in trades.
 

What bounce back candidate free agent starting pitcher will they sign? It seems like the Pirates sign a bounce back candidate starting pitcher every off season. Last year it was Edinson Volquez. The year before that it was Francisco Liriano. Who will it be this year? The hot name being suggested is Justin Masterson. Masterson is a ground ball pitcher with an ERA that was significantly higher than his FIP this season. So yes, he fits the profile.
 

Might they perhaps make a bigger free agency splash this year? According to GM Neal Huntington the Pirates had close to $20 million in their budget to shop for free agents last offseason. They were unable to find the right players and left most of that money on the table. It is unlikely they will expand their budget enough to do any shopping outside of the bargain bins, but this is a contending team ready to win. If there ever was a time for this organization to open the purse strings and make a run at signing an impact player it is now.
 

What about the possibility of a major trade? Huntington has flirted with trading for an impact player over the last several years. He tried to land Jon Lester and David Price at the trade deadline. The Pirates have also been attached to Mike Stanton rumors. Eventually Huntington is going to pull the trigger on a huge deal. Perhaps it will be this year at the Winter Meetings.
 

What about bench and depth signings? They certainly could use a backup middle infielder to replace Clint Barmes. Or maybe they will bring Barmes back again. Neal Huntington loves to collect AAAA players, so I am sure we will see several AAAA type players invited to Spring Training.

 

Jordy Mercer and The Late Bloomer Conundrum

In 2014 Jordy Mercer established himself as a viable starting major league shortstop. He earned his first call up in May of 2012 and split duties in 2013 with Clint Barmes, but this past season he became an everyday regular. Mercer got off to a slow start but finished strongly. He posted a triple slash line of .255/.305/.387 in 149 games. Those are decent numbers for a SS. For a Pirate SS they are terrific. The Pirates have not had a solid hitting shortstop since Jay Bell in the mid 90′s. Unfortunately for Jordy he will not get to cash in on his success anytime soon. Mercer is one of several late blooming Pirate players in recent seasons. He did not reach the big league club until age 25 and did not become an established regular until age 27. Mercer can not become a free agent until the 2019 season when he will be 32 years old. The Pirates already control him through what should be the prime years of his career, which means there is very little incentive for the club to work out a long term contract extension with him. The three position players the Pirates have previously negotiated contract extensions with, Andrew McCutchen, Jose Tabata, and Starling Marte were all set to become free agents prior to age 30. The Pirates were able to secure a few additional years of control by locking these players up with multi-year contracts early in their careers, but only in the case of Marte did they go beyond the age 31 season. Under Marte’s contract the Pirates hold a team option on his age 32 season.
 

Most skills for position players already begin to decline by age 30. It is risky for teams to buy additional years of control for players like Mercer when those years are likely to come with a regression in productivity. Jordy Mercer seems destined to follow the Neil Walker path in terms of how the Pirates will handle his contract situation. Walker also was somewhat of a late bloomer. The Pirates control Walker thru his age 30 season. The team has been content to take a year to year approach with Walker using his arbitration estimates as a guide to settle on his salary. Walker has stated that the Pirates have not discussed a multi-year contract with him since 2010. Despite Walker not being rewarded with a long term contract things have still worked out pretty well for him. His career earnings are already in the neighborhood of $10 million and the early arbitration estimates this offseason have him pegged to make another $9 million in 2015. But Walker benefitted by being a Super 2 arbitration player. Jordy Mercer will not make the Super 2 cut.

 

Not all teams are adverse to offering extensions to late bloomers. The Rays signed Ben Zobrist thru his age 34 season as did the Cardinals with Matt Carpenter. If a team sees value in doing it they will negotiate. With age not on Mercer’s side and him only having three cracks at arbitration the Pirates would have significant leverage in any multi-year contract discussions they might have with Mercer. Perhaps that leverage would allow for them to negotiate a long term contract with Mercer where the potential value outweighs the risk. So although Mercer is an unlikely extension candidate it is also not out of the realm of possibility. However, this would require the Pirates to be much more bullish on their projections of Jordy Mercer in his early 30′s than they have been with other players.
 

Francisco Lirian-QO

In roughly two weeks the Pittsburgh Pirates will have to make their first big decisions of the offseason – which pending free agents they should extend a qualifying offer (QO) to. The exact deadline will not be determined until the World Series has ended. Teams have five days after the conclusion of the World Series to make their qualifying offers. The QO this year is $15.3 million. That is no small sum for a team with a payroll budget of around $90 million like the Pirates. There are two pending free agents the Pirates will consider extending a QO. One is a no-brainer. The Pirates have already indicated they will make a qualifying offer to Russell Martin. There is no risk to doing so. He is practically guaranteed not to sign it, and if he does the Pirates will retain a player that is well worth the cost of the QO. As much as Pirate fans want Martin to be resigned the most likely scenario is he will turn down the QO from the Pirates and sign a multi-year extension with a larger market club. Under that scenario the Pirates would at least collect a draft pick in 2015 sandwiched between Rounds 1 and 2. The second player the Pirate will contemplate extending a qualifying offer to is Francisco Liriano. That decision is a little less clear cut, but I believe it is one the Pirates should make.
 

There is an outside chance that if the Pirates do make a QO to Liriano he might sign it. Although no player has yet to accept a QO, there were several players last offseason that probably wish they had. Nelson Cruz, Kendrys Morales, Ervin Santana, and Stephen Drew all found their market significantly impacted when their services were attached to the loss of a 1st round draft pick. Cruz, Morales, and Drew all signed 1 year deals for less than the qualifying offer. Santana signed a 1 year contract with the Braves for essentially the same amount as the QO. Eventually a player is going to end up just taking the QO instead of gambling on finding a longer term deal while their value is being suppressed by the signing penalty of a lost 1st round pick. Liriano profiles as the type of player that is most hurt by a QO. He is going to be 31 years old next season, he has thrown close to 1200 career innings, and he has an injury history. He also is too inconsistent to be considered a bonafide top of the rotation starting pitcher. Liriano is a better bet as a mid-rotation starter. For these reasons he likely would not fetch an enormous long term free agent contract even under the best of circumstances. He is inline for something like a 3 or 4 year deal in the $12-$14 million annual average value (AAV) range. The QO could really drag his market down further, which might make the $15.3 million 1 year salary that comes with a QO look like an attractive option to him.
 

If Liriano does accept a QO that isn’t such a terrible outcome for the Pirates. $15.3 million is some what of an overpay for Liriano, but it comes with no long term risk and he offers at least a fair chance at performing up to that level. Liriano can be maddeningly inconsistent at times, but he is also capable of being dominant. He is not a true ace but he is capable of pitching like one in stretches. In 2013 he pitched like an ace all season. He had some struggles in 2014, but there are signs Liriano can still be an elite pitcher. His K/9 rate of 9.70 and ground ball rate of 54.4% this season were even better than his 2013 numbers. Good luck trying to find another ground ball pitcher with those type of strikeout rates.
 

An even better outcome for the Pirates than Liriano outright accepting the QO is that it could lead to a discounted multi-year contract. If Liriano declines the QO the Pirates would still be in position to capitalize on his suppressed market. A 2 year/$25 million contract could be a win-win for all parties. The Pirates would retain Liriano at a lower AAV than the cost of the qualifying offer, while Liriano would get $10 million additional in guaranteed money above the QO. Either way the goal should be for the Pirates to retain Francisco Liriano. The best chance of that happening is by extending him a qualifying offer.
 

Sizing Up the Market for Russell Martin

Pittsburgh Pirates catcher Russell Martin will be a free agent in a few short weeks. He is the best available catcher in this free agent class and will be highly sought after. Although Martin is on the wrong side of 30 he should still find several teams willing to offer him a multi-year contract in the neighborhood of $15 million Annual Average Value (AAV). At a minimum it will take a 3 year contract to ink him, and it is very likely it will take 4 or more guaranteed years to get a deal done. So here are the potential landing spots to sign Russell Martin.
 


The Incumbent

 

Pittsburgh Pirates
Why he makes sense for the Pirates: Martin is well respected by his teammates, adored by the fans, and the front office has already said signing him is a priority. Pitch framing and strong defense are two attributes the Pirates really value, and Martin is elite in both those aspects. He has been a prefect fit for the organization since he joined them two years ago. The Pirates intend to extend him a qualifying offer.

 
Why he doesn’t make sense for the Pirates: Money, Money, Money. The largest free agent contract the Pirates have ever handed out was the $17 million contract they gave Martin two years ago. It will take triple that to sign him now. The Pirates are a frugal organization that avoids risky long term signings. Catchers do not age gracefully. Martin will be 32 next season. Signing him comes with a significant risk that his play will regress and he will underperform the backend of the contract.
 


Strong Suitors

 
Red Sox
Why he makes sense for the Red Sox: The Red Sox ended up really missing Jarrod Saltalamacchia who left the Sox for the Marlins as a free agent last winter. Boston’s catchers combined for just 0.9 fWAR in 2014. Young Christian Vazquez has some talent, but the Red Sox are a team that aspires to be contenders every season. They probably won’t be comfortable just handing over the bulk of the catching duties to Vazquez. The Red Sox have a protected 1st round draft pick, so the qualifying offer that will be attached to Martin will not deter them. The Red Sox are a cash rich organization that is financially capable of bidding on the best available free agent talent.

 
Why he doesn’t make sense for the Red Sox: In the past few seasons the Red Sox have to stayed away from deals longer than 3 years. The Red Sox covet the roster flexibility that shorter contracts provide.
 

Cubs
Why he makes sense for the Cubs: The Cubs are a team on the come with numerous young position player talent. They might be ready to contend if they can get the most out of their pitching staff. What better way to do that than by adding a catcher like Martin that is great at handling a pitching staff and helps steal strikes for pitchers with his exceptional framing skills? The Cubs’ brass has also spoken of the need to add some veteran presence and leadership to the squad. As an added bonus signing Martin would also be taking away a player from a strong division rival. Much like the Red Sox, the Cubs have a protected 1st round pick and plenty of money in the coffers to sign a free agent of Martin’s ilk.

 
Why he doesn’t make sense for the Cubs: The Cubs actually have a fair catcher in Welington Castillo. Martin might also not believe the Cubs are as close to contending as they think. Would he take an offer from the Cubs if stronger contenders are beckoning?
 

Tigers
Why he makes sense for the Tigers: The Tigers are team in a win now mode and their catcher Alex Avila has suffered from several recent concussions. They are also not shy about chasing top notch free agents.

 
Why he doesn’t make sense for the Tigers: The Tigers have really expanded their payroll beyond a comfortable level, and their farm system has been left with a dearth of talent due to numerous trades in recent seasons. Signing Martin would continue to hurt them on both fronts as signing him will not be cheap and the Tigers would lose their 2015 1st round draft pick.

 

Rangers
Why he makes sense for the Rangers: The Rangers had an abysmal season in 2014 and the catcher position was part of the problem. Martin could really solidify a position in which the Rangers produced less than 1 fWAR. The Rangers also have a track record as being players in the free agent market. They also have a protected 1st round draft pick.

 
Why he doesn’t make sense for the Rangers: The Rangers have had a bloated payroll for years and they have hinted that they need to trim their budget. They had so many problems last season and catcher is probably not their biggest issue. They might be closer to going the rebuilding route than making a run at another expensive free agent.
 

Dodgers
Why he makes sense for the Dodgers: The Dodgers are a team that is in a win now mode and got underwhelming performances this season from catchers A.J. Ellis and Drew Butera. New GM Andrew Friedman has a reputation from his tenure with the Rays for valuing more advanced defensive catcher skill sets like pitch framing and blocking. Martin fits the bill. The Dodgers look like the favorites to land him.

 
Why he doesn’t make sense for the Dodgers: Even with subpar performance from their catchers the Dodgers still had the best record in the National League. The Dodgers have the highest payroll in baseball. How much higher can they go? At some point the escalators on the payroll luxury tax will be problematic for the Dodgers. It is also unclear how Friedman will handle having such a large budget. Although Martin would be affordable to the Dodgers I don’t expect they would make him an insane offer far beyond what other clubs would be willing to pay. Friedman is too smart to saddle himself with too much sunk cost at the end of any contract. Signing Martin would also cost the Dodgers their 2015 1st round draft pick.

 


Dark Horses

Blue Jays, Rockies, White Sox, Mariners, Mets, Braves
Why he makes sense for these clubs: These clubs have varying needs for a catcher. Among this group the White Sox and Rockies appear to have the biggest need for a good backstop.

 
Why he doesn’t make sense for these clubs: The Mariners have Mike Zunino and the Mets have Travis d’Arnaud. Both are younger catchers with upside, so unless these clubs absolutely love Russell Martin they probably will stick with what they have for now. Dioner Navarro did an adequate job for the Blue Jays last season. Although he profiles more as a backup, the Blue Jays will probably be inclined to stick with him instead of spending lavishly on Martin. The Braves have Evan Gattis who can mash, but defensively is a liability. Cost and the loss of a 1st round pick would probably dissuade them from getting involved in the market for Russell Martin. The Blue Jays, Mets, and Mariners would also lose a 1st round pick if they were to sign a free agent attached to a qualifying offer. The Rockies could really use a catcher, but Martin is likely out of their price range. The White Sox would be a good fit, but they are not likely to contend next season and that could affect their willingness to sink money into an aging veteran catcher.

 

How Teams Have Fared After Losing a Primary Catcher in Free Agency

In a few short weeks Pirates catcher Russell Martin will become a free agent. The Pirates hope to retain him, and for good reason. Like most primary catchers he is an integral part of the team’s success. Recent history has not be kind to teams that have lost their primary catcher to free agency. Over the past five seasons 13 primary catchers have parted with their teams via free agency. For this study I’m considering a primary catcher to be one that has started more than half of his team’s games behind the dish. Those teams on average have won 7.1 less games in the following season. If you factor the “Barajas” effect, the numbers look even worse. Three times Rod Barajas has left a team after being its primary catcher and those teams improved by 10, 4, and 15 games. The only non-Barajas teams that didn’t get worse were the 2010 Dodgers that improved by two games after losing Russell Martin and the 2009 Royals who also improved by two games after Miguel Olivo left for the Rockies. Excluding the teams with Rod Barajas, the difference after losing a primary catcher was 12.1 less wins in the subsequent season. Here is the full list of teams that have lost their primary catcher in free agency over the last five seasons:

 

Year Player Team Change in wins
2013 Brian McCann Braves -17
2013 A.J. Pierzynski Rangers -24
2013 Jarrod Saltalamacchia Red Sox -26
2012 Rod Barajas Pirates +15
2012 Russell Martin Yankees -10
2012 A.J. Pierzynski White Sox -22
2011 Rod Barajas Dodgers +4
2010 John Buck Blue Jays -4
2010 Yorvit Torrealba Padres -19
2010 Russell Martin Dodgers +2
2009 Jason Kendall Brewers -3
2009 Rod Barajas Blue Jays +10
2009 Miguel Olivo Roayls +2

 

Pirates 2014 Season From A to Z

A is for Attendance. The Pirates drew 2,442,564 fans to PNC Park this season to set an new franchise attendance record.

 
B for Bumgarner, as in Madison Bumgarner. Bumgarner dominated the Pirates in a complete game shutout at PNC Park in the N.L Wild Card Game to end their 2014 season

 
C is for Cutch. Star CF Andrew McCutchen had another fine season and once against was an MVP candidate. He may not win the MVP award this season, but he is a virtual lock for his 3rd straight top 5 finish.

 
D is for Diamondbacks. A series against the Diamondbacks from August 1st – 3rd turned into a brutal beanball war that ultimately ended with the Pirates losing Andrew McCutchen for several weeks with a broken rib.

 
E is for Eddie V. Edinson Volquez was brought in as a free agent to replace A.J. Burnett in the rotation. Many, including myself, thought it was a bad signing. But Eddie V turned out to be better than expected. He still shouldn’t have been the starting pitcher in the Wild Card Game though.

 

F is for Frieri, as in Ernesto Frieri. The Pirates acquired relief pitcher Ernesto Frieri in late June from the Angels. Frieri was a disaster. On July 8th he gave up walk-off home run to Cardinals second basemen Kolten Wong. Frieri continued to suck for another month before the Pirates DFA’d him on August 8th.

 
G is for Grilli. Jason Grilli entered the season as the Pirates closer, but after a string of blown saves he was dealt to the Angels for Ernesto Frieri on June 27th.

 
H is for Hit By Pitch. Pirate pitchers are taught to aggressively pitch inside. One of the byproducts of that approach is that they hit a lot of batters. The Pirate pitching staff hit 88 batters which led the league by a wide margin.

 
I is for Ike. The Pirates acquired 1B Ike Davis from the Mets on April 18th. Ike spent most of the summer taking pitches, even when they were 3rd strikes.

 
J is for JHay. Josh Harrison was the Pirates surprise hero of the season. JHay’s rise from bench player to all-star was meteoric. He started the year as essentially the 25th man on the roster. By season’s end he was the leadoff hitter, starting 3B, and one of the most important players on the team. JHay could seemingly do anything… including Houdiniesque escapes from rundowns.
 

 
K is for Ks. Pirate hitters had significantly fewer of them this season. Under new hitting coach Jeff Branson the Pirates struck out 86 times less than in 2013.

 
L is for Lunchbox. Lunchbox is the nickname of Pirates RF Travis Snider. Snider has been much maligned for most of his tenure with the Pirates, but he had something of a breakout season in 2014 and eventually earned the starting RF job.

 
M is for Marte. After struggling for much of the 1st half of the season Starling Marte turned his season around after returning from a brief stay on the DL in late July. Marte was one of the hottest hitters in baseball over the last two months of the season.
 

N is for “No Move is the Right Move”. That was GM Neal Huntington’s explanation for why he didn’t make any trades to strengthen the team at the deadline.

 

O is for offense. This was the Pirates strongest offensive team since the early 90′s. They posted a 109 wRC+ (weighted run created plus) which was 4th best in the baseball and the highest total by a Pirates team since 1991.
 

P is for Polanco. Highly touted prospect Gregory Polanco made his debut on June 10th. He got off to a hot start but struggled in July and August. Eventually he was benched and sent back down to the minors.
 

Q is for qualifying offer. According to the front office the Pirates could not afford to offer one to A.J. Burnett.
 

R is for Russ, as in catcher Russell Martin. Martin is always great defensively, but this season he had a career year offensively too. Russ is a soon to be free agent and much of the talk this summer centered around whether or not the Pirates would be able to sign him to a new contract that would keep him in Pittsburgh.
 

S is for Sanchez. The Pirates have two of them and neither one did much this season.

 

T is for TOOTBLAN. The Pirates base running was comically bad at times this season. This incident was by far the worst offense.
 

 
U is for useless. Useless describes the Pirates bench in early August that consisted of Michael Martinez, Jayson Nix, and Brent Morel while a number of key players were on the disabled list.

 

V is for Vanimal, the nickname of pitcher Vance Worley. Worley became the latest pitcher the Pirates were able to find on the scrap heap and transform into a quality starting pitcher.

 
W is for walk-off. The Pirates had 10 walk-off wins in 2014 including this game winning home run by Neil Walker on opening day.
 

 
X is for xFIP. xFIP is a better predictor of future performance for pitchers than ERA. Vance Worley and Edinson Volquez both significantly outperformed their xFIP which means they probably won’t be as good next season.

 
Y is for yips. Pedro Alvarez had a very bad case of the yips this season. Alvarez led all of baseball with 24 throwing errors.

 
Z is for Zoltan. For the 3rd straight summer Pirate players flashed the Zoltan Z sign after getting a hit. The team didn’t start the season using the Z, but they brought it back in late April after an early season slump.

 

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