Thursday, March 21, 2019

Pittsburgh Pirates 2019 season preview

Joe Musgrove. Photo from the Post-Gazette


               This offseason couldn't have been bad for Pirates fans. Well, not as bad as it was last year. The Pirates made two necessary but tough trades, dealing face of the franchise Andrew McCutchen and ace Gerrit Cole. But, on a positive note, the team had a winning record. The Pirates can keep themselves in games, but they don't have the team that others in their division have.

                Offseason additions: RHP Jordan Lyles, OF Lonnie Chisenhall, INF Erik Gonzalez, RHP Brandon Maurer, LHP Fransisco Liriano, OF Melky Cabrera, OF JB Scuck, LHP Tyler Lyons, INF Nick Franklin

                Offseason subtractions: RHP Ivan Nova, INF Josh Harrison, SS Jordy Mercer, UT Sean Rodriguez, Max Moroff, Jordan Luplow

                Rotation
The Pirates had two 14 win pitchers last year, a rare feat for them. It hadn't happened for them since 1978. Those two pitchers were Jameson Taillon and Trevor Williams, the former establishing himself as the Pirates' ace. Taillon and Williams had a 3.20 and 3.11 ERA, respectively, though both struck out far less than their innings pitched. The Pirates acquired Chris Archer at last year's deadline for two of their best prospects, Tyler Glasnow and Austin Meadows, who were both MLB ready, and 2017 first rounder Shane Baz. The trade doesn't seem to work out for them yet, as Archer struggled struggled in 10 starts after the trade. Archer has't had a truly dominant season since 2015, but was an all-star in 2017. Joe Musgrove, acquired in the Cole trade, made just 19 starts last year, but wasn't bad in them. Jordan Lyles, signed after opening eyes in the bullpen with Milwaukee late last season, is the favorite for the 5th spot. Nick Kingham, who made 15 starts last year as a rookie, also has a chance.

                 Bullpen
Felipe Vazquez made his first all star team, but his ERA rose just over a full run to a 2.70. He made 37 saves with 89 strikeouts in 70 innings. Along with acquiring Archer last deadline, the Pirates also brought in Keone Kela. Kela, Texas' closer at the time, was good in 16 games after the trade. In his rookie season at age 28, Richard Rodriguez's strikeout and innings pitched were the same as Vazquez's, and he had a lower ERA. The fourth of a quartet of promising relievers for the Pirates is Kyle Crick, a product of the McCutchen trade. Crick had a 2.39 ERA in 64 games last year. Both Chad Kuhl and Edgar Santana, who could have put significant bullpen innings in this year, will miss the season with Tommy John surgery. lefty Steven Brault and righty Nick Kingham can start and come in relief, but they will be in the bullpen to start the season. Another part of the Cole trade, Michael Feliz, won't make the 2019 team after a disappointing 2018. The only two other pitchers on the 40 man left are Nick Burdi and Dovydas Neveraukas, but I'd rather pencil in former Pirates ace Fransisco Liriano and former Padres closer Brandon Maurer in.

                     Catching
2018 will likely be Fransisco Cervelli final season with the Pirates. He could be traded later this season, because he will be a free agent after the season. Cervelli had career highs in homers (12) and OPS (.809) last year. As the backup catcher, Elias Diaz hit 10 home runs with a .286 average. He'll likely be the catcher when/if Cervelli leaves. He will start the season hurt, though, so Jacob Stallings, the only other catcher on the 40-man, will be the backup until then.

                       Infield
First baseman Josh Bell had so much potential last year, coming off of a 26 home run season. But, his power checked out, as he hit just 12 home runs, and hit .261. With second baseman Josh Harrison and shortstop Jordy Mercer both signing in Detroit, two spots have been opened. Adam Frazier, who had a .798 OPS last year, will play at second. Light-hitting shortstop prospect Kevin Newman got a taste of MLB action last year, but struggled. In a four player minor league player trade, the Pirates acquired Erik Gonzalez, Fransisco Lindor's backup in Cleveland. Gonzalez will likely play short. Colin Moran, the main part of the Cole trade, was decent in his first Pirates season. But, he is rivaled at third by Jung Ho Kang. Kang has played in just three games over the last two seasons due to legal issues, visa issues, and injury issues. But a strong Spring Training could have him as Opening Day's third baseman.

                          Outfield
Gregory Polanco led the team last year with a mere 23 home runs, but he will miss at least the first month. Until then, Lonnie Chisenhall will take up right field duties. Chisenhall, a former Pirates draft pick that never signed with the team, hit .321 in 29 games for Cleveland last year. He has a .747 career OPS over eight seasons. Starling Marte hit 20 home runs and stole 33 bases, and enters 2019 as the best hitter on the team. In his first season in Pittsburgh, Corey Dickerson went from defensive liability to Gold Glove winner. He hit just 13 home runs last year, but hit .300 with a .804 OPS.

                           Bench
Due to Diaz's injury, Stallings will start the season as the backup catcher. Assuming Kang is the third baseman, Moran will be on the bench. Newman will as well. He hit .209 in 31 games last year. Jose Osuna has played both corner infield and outfield spots over his two year career.

                           Lineup
2B Adam Frazier
CF Starling Marte
LF Corey Dickerson
1B Josh Bell
C Fransisco Cervelli
3B Jung Ho Kang
RF Lonnie Chisenhall
SS Erik Gonzalez

                            Rotation
Jameson Taillon (R)
Trevor Williams (R)
Chris Archer (R)
Joe Musgrove (R)
Jordan Lyles (R)

                             Bullpen
Felipe Vazquez (L)
Keone Kela (R)
Richard Rodriguez (R)
Kyle Crick (R)
Steven Brault (L)
Nick Kingham (R)
Fransisco Liriano (L)
Brandon Maurer (R)

                               Bench
C Jacob Stallings
UT Jose Osuna
3B Colin Moran
SS Kevin Newman

                                Additional Information
Ballpark: PNC Park
Manager: Clint Hurdle
GM: Neal Huntington
World Series Championships: 5
2018 record: 82-79

                                Steal of the Decade
The Pirates' closer, Mark Melancon, was a free agent at the end of 2016. They traded him to the Nationals for Felipe Vazquez (then Felipe Rivero) and Taylor Hearn. In parts of three season with Pittsburgh, Vazquez has a 2.35 ERA, with with 58 saves and a 11.3 K/9. While Melancon was what Washington needed and Hearn hasn't played in the majors yet, this trade gifted the Pirates their best reliever, and he was just 24.

                                Prediction
The Pirates have a decent team. But, in a very strong NL Central that could see every team finish over .500, the Pirates don't have a great playoff chance.

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