Hidden Vigorish

Detailed Analysis of The Pittsburgh Pirates

Pirates at the Quarter Pole

The Pirates have reached the quarter pole of the 2014 season in disappointing fashion. After finishing the 2013 season with 94 wins, this team was expected to contend. But here we are with 25% of the season gone and the Pirates sit with a 17-23 record and trail the first place Milwaukee Brewers by 8.5 games. The problems with the Pirates are both simple and complex. We can easily highlight the four 9th inning blown saves, three of which have come against the Brewers, as a big reason why the Pirates are this hole. Those blown leads against the Brewers represent a six game swing in the standings. The outlook of the rest of this season would look a whole lot rosier if the Pirates were a .500 club and only 2.5 back in the standings. We can also point to the increase in Home Runs allowed as in easily identifiable reason for the Pirates’ fall from grace. Last season the Bucs’ pitching staff surrendered a league best 101 Home Runs. This season they have already given up 40. They are on pace to give up 60 more Home Runs than what they surrendered last season. Poor luck has been a factor. Last season only 8.9% of fly balls hit against Pirate pitching left the yard. This season the HR/FB rate has jumped to 12.6%. That equates to 12 additional Home Runs given up this season. If we could subtract 12 Home Runs from the opposition over these first 40 games played, what would the Pirates’ record be? I’ll go out on a limb and say it would be much better than 17-23. But it would be a mistake to chalk up all the Pirates’ issues with the pitching staff to bad luck. The Pirates have the second lowest K/9 in the National League. Their 4.29 FIP is the third highest in the NL. More balls are being put in play this season, and defensively the Pirates have regressed. Among regulars only Starling Marte and Jordy Mercer have a positive Ultimate Zone Rating this season. The infield is a combined -9 in Defensive Runs Saved.
So where will the Pirates go from here? I do expect some improvement. Offensively the Pirates do have some upside. Pedro Alvarez will surely slug higher than than the .389 SLG % he has thus far, and Gregory Polanco should provide a boost to the production from RF. The Pirates have gotten little offense from the SS position, although Jordy Mercer has picked it up as of late. But Neil Walker and Gaby Sanchez have hit above expectations. Walker is having a career year, but can he maintain an OPS over .800 for a full season? Whatever gains the Pirates might make offensively will be marginal. If the Pirates are going to right this ship the real key will come from run prevention, and the area of most concern is the starting pitching. The defense has not been good and the bullpen has blown late leads, but I’m confident those aspects of the team will level out. The rotation is a different story. The Pirates simply have too many shaky starters in their five man rotation right now. Francisco Liriano has had a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde type of career. Last year he was terrific. This year he has reverted back to being Mr. Hyde. Edinson Volquez and Wandy Rodriguez inspire even less confidence than Liriano. Charlie Morton is just as much of a question mark as he is an exclamation point. That leaves Gerrit Cole to anchor the rotation. And let’s face it, Cole hasn’t actually been an ace this year either. The Pirates aren’t dead yet. 75% of the season is still to be played. But the starting pitching needs to turn things around STAT for the Pirates to have any chance of contending in the second half of the season.

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