I had planned on writing up a very long and thorough post to preview the Pirates’ 2014 season. It was going to be full of sabermetric projections and all sorts of goodies for just about every player on the roster that I have not yet profiled. Unfortunately, I had a family emergency this weekend and didn’t have the time to get to it. But I still want to put some of my thoughts on the blog before the season starts. This will be a little scattered and not as thorough as I want, but it will be here for posterity.
Starting Rotation: I like rotation with the exception of Edinson Volquez. I think Volquez is going to be an utter failure. I think he’ll be cut before the all-star break. There a lot of amateur sabermetric hacks that point to Volquez’s 4.07 xFIP as reason to be hopeful that he can rebound. What they fail to mention is that Volquez often under pitches his xFIP. His career ERA is 0.58 higher than his career xFIP in 850 innings. That is no small sample. The lack of a proven innings eater in the rotation is worrisome, but the Pirates do have plenty of depth to cover for that. I expect Gerrit Cole to be one of the top 20 pitchers in the league. I think Charlie Morton is going to have the best year of his career. Francisco Liriano is likely to regress some, but I fully expect he will still be an asset in the rotation. Wandy Rodriguez is the wild card. If he can stay healthy and return to form this could be an excellent rotation. Wandy’s spring training performance was promising.
Bullpen: Last season the Pirates had one of the best bullpens in the league. Little has changed with that group of arms. Vin Mazzaro is out and Stolmy Pimentel is in. Bullpens are highly volatile from year to year. I do fear some regression is going to bite the Bucs’ bullpen this season. I’m also concerned that Jason Grilli might not regain the velocity or the effectiveness he lost after straining his elbow last July. I wouldn’t at all be surprised if manager Clint Hurdle has to turn to multiple closers. This is just a hunch, but by the end of the year I have a funny feeling that Tony Watson will be the guy being leaned on to finish games.
Outfield: Any group that has CF Andrew McCutchen is going to be good. Pair him with LF Starling Marte and you have one of the best in the league. The only question is RF, and when Gregory Polanco gets called up the Pirates’ outfield could be one of the best that baseball has seen in more than a decade. Until Polanco arrives Travis Snider and Jose Tabata will split time in RF. Both are often injured. Both have failed to live up to expectations. Both could still be key contributors. I think Travis Snider might be ready to take the leap forward. He seems like the more motivated player of the two.
Infield: Let’s get the dark spot of this team out of the way quickly. 1B is an obvious hole. Gaby Sanchez is a quality alternative against southpaws. The options against right-handed pitching is just bad. Travis Ishikawa is not a long term answer. He better get off to a hot start or he won’t be here long. I think the team will give Andrew Lambo another shot as soon as he strings together a good week of hitting at Indianapolis. Not that I think Lambo is much of an answer either. I expect him to flop too. GM Neal Huntington better be active at the trade deadline to fix this problem. The rest of the infield looks solid. Pedro Alvarez and Neil Walker are both top 10 players at their positions. Both have had issues hitting against left-handed pitching. Last season they posted an OPS of under .600 against southpaws. I think they will improve those numbers a bit this year. They have to or they will end up losing playing time. Jordy Mercer could put up the best offensive season from a Pirates’ shortstop since Jack Wilson won the Silver Slugger award in 2004. The question with Mercer is can he play adequate defense at SS over a full season? I think he will be acceptable. He better be because this pitching staff knows how to roll ground balls.
Catchers: Catching is another strength for this team. Russell Martin is an elite defensive catcher and an excellent pitch framer. He earns his money just by what he does behind the dish, though he is no slouch in the batters’ box either. He is by far the Pirates’ most selective hitter. I do believe Martin may regress some this season. He is on the wrong side of 30 and has caught more than 1000 big league games. That tells you his career is on the backside of the mountain. Hopefully there is no cliff there yet. I hope Hurdle gives him more rest this season. I would limit him to 100 starts. Tony Sanchez is the backup for the time being while Chris Stewart recovers from a knee injury. Sanchez could play Stewart right off the roster.
Prediction: Record of 86-76. Second place in the NL Central behind the Cardinals. I have a bad feeling they are going to fall a game or two short of the final wild card spot.