Thursday, July 16, 2020

Pittsburgh Pirates 2020 Season Preview

From the Post-Gazette

       Last year was not a fun year to be a Pittsburgh Pirate. The team was bad, finishing 69-93, last in the NL Central. But, that is just the start. Clubhouse altercations and creepy closers made 2019 a year to forget in Pittsburgh. The Pirates finally discarded General Manager Neal Huntington after many disappointing events, and bad moves, topped off by the Chris Archer trade that could have sent three young stars to Tampa Bay, depending on Shane Baz's development. Also, Huntington trading away a certain former 1st overall pick who got $325 million this offseason. With ex Red Sox GM Ben Cherington at the helm, and Derek Shelton taking over for Clint Hurdle at manager, the Pirates might need to rebuild first, and could be very active at a trade deadline which seems to be dormant on August 31st.

       Offseason additions: OF Guillermo Heredia, OF Jarrod Dyson, IF JT Riddle, LHP Derek Holland, LHP Robbie Erlin, C John Ryan Murphy.

       Offseason subtractions: OF Starling Marte, OF Melky Cabrera, LHP Francisco Liriano, IF Jung Ho Kang, C Elias Diaz.

       Rotation
Once again, Jameson Taillon is injured. While he has a decent career ERA of 3.67, Taillon has been very disappointing, being the guy drafted between Bryce Harper and Manny Machado. He will miss all of 2020 with Tommy John surgery. Joe Musgrove's first full season was not ace material, although he will likely start on Opening Day. The former Astro had a 4.44 ERA with 157 strikeouts in 170.1 innings. Musgrove's best pitch is his slider, which had a 39.3 whiff percentage. After a great (but fluky) 2018 season, Trevor Williams did not keep it up at all, striking out 113 batters in 145.2 innings with a 5.38 ERA. The former Marlin farmhand has an average exit velocity against of 85.9 mph in his career. The aforementioned Archer will join Taillon on the sidelines in 2020, as he had surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome, a procedure that pitchers do not usually return to from easily from, most notably Matt Harvey. The guy taking the third rotation spot from Archer, Mitch Keller, has a chance to be one of the only silver linings for the 2020 Pirates. Pittsburgh's top prospect and the 39th best prospect in baseball (MLB Pipeline), Keller debuted in 2019, striking out 65 in 48 innings, but had a 7.11 ERA. However, Keller had a good 3.19 FIP. Keller's mid-to-high-90s fastball got lit up, with a .719 slugging against. Veteran lefty Derek Holland will be in the rotation after mainly being a reliever in 2019 for the Giants and Cubs. In 51 games (eight starts), Holland had a 6.08 ERA with 82 strikeouts in 84.1 innings. Holland had a 3.57 ERA and qualified in 2018. The final spot is a battle between Steven Brault and Chad Kuhl. Kuhl, returning from Tommy John surgery, did not pitch in 2019. He has a 4.37 ERA in 61 career starts, with 276 strikeouts in 313 innings. Kuhl's curveball has a 2901 rpm spin rate. Brault, a lefty, has been more of a reliever than a starter in his career. He had a 5.16 ERA with 100 strikeouts in 113.1 innings last year. Brault had a good career barrel percentage allowed of 5.9%.

       Rotation
Keone Kela will take over the closer role. Felipe Vazquez had a great three-and-a-half-years in Pittsburgh, but, well, click on the "creepy closers" link from the introduction if you don't know why he won't play in 2020. Kela, who closed out games in 2018 for the Rangers, had his first full season as a Pirate last year. Kela finished with a 2.12 ERA and 33 strikeouts in 29.2 innings. Kela has a career 30.1 K%. Richard Rodriguez's second season in Pittsburgh was not as good as the first, but it was still decent. Rodriguez finished with a 3.72 ERA and 63 strikeouts in 65.1 innings. However, Rodriguez allowed 14 home runs. Rodriguez has a fastball with an rpm of 2506, more than his slider. Kyle Crick, part of the Andrew McCutchen trade, had his worst MLB season, allowing 10 home runs with a 4.96 ERA. He did have a career high 11.2 K/9, with 61 Ks in 49 innings. Crick has a career exit velocity against of 85.2 mph. Michael Feliz, acquired with Musgrove from Houston for Gerrit Cole, had his best season yet, with a 3.99 ERA and 73 strikeouts in 56.1 innings. However, like other relievers on the team, Feliz allowed double digit home runs, with 11. Feliz allowed an xBA of .205. Former starter Chris Stratton was awful to start the season with the Angels, but improved after being purchased by the Pirates. In Pittsburgh, Stratton had a 3.66 ERA with 47 strikeouts in 46.2 innings. Stratton's curveball had a spin rate of 3107 rpm, the 4th best in the league. Right-hander Clay Holmes had a 5.58 ERA with 56 strikeouts in 50 innings. Holmes had a barrel percentage against of 5.1%. 27 year old Nick Burdi, a former 2nd round pick, has had Tommy John surgery and thoracic outlet sydrome surgery, the latter happening after his season ended on the mound, when Burdi fell to the ground, clutching his arm after throwing a fastball near 97 miles an hour, which is just about his average fastball velocity. Burdi struck out 17 batters in 8.2 innings last year, but had a 9.35 ERA. His FIP was good, at 1.83. Dovydas Neveraukas, a Lithuanian pitch with the longest name ever, has pitched in 61.2 innings over the last three years. He has a career ERA of 6.71 with 54 strikeouts. Neverauskas struck out 10 batters in 9.1 innings and allowed 11 runs last year. His curveball has a 2915 rpm spin rate. Robbie Erlin, a lefty who was a Padre since 2013, being their longest tenured player, comes to Pittsburgh after he posted a 5.37 ERA with 52 strikeouts in 55.1 innings. Erlin has a career FIP of 3.59. Puerto Rican righty Yacksel Rios was claimed off waivers by the Pirates in August. He had a 5.23 ERA in his final 10 outings, with 10 Ks. Rios' fastball averaged 96.2 mph.

       Catchers
Jacob Stallings and Luke Maile will be the two catchers in 2020, although it is unclear who will start. It will likely be Stallings, but Maile can win it over him. Stallings appeared in 71 games for Pittsburgh last year, with six home runs, a .262 average and an OPS of .708. Maile, who has spent the last three years in Toronto, has a career OPS of .556. He has hit 10 home runs with 60 RBIs in 215 games for Toronto and Tampa Bay.

       Infielders
Josh Bell took over the mantle of best hitter on the Pirates last year, hitting 37 home runs with 116 RBIs and a .936 OPS. Bell had a 92.3 mph average exit velocity, and an xSLG of .556. With Starling Marte off to Arizona, Bell is the only returning Pirate who hit at least 20 home runs last year. Second baseman Adam Frazier has some value, with a 2.0 bWAR last year, so he could be traded midseason. Frazier matched his 10 home runs from 2018, and stole five bases with a .278 average and a .753 OPS. Frazier's average has gone up by exactly one point each year for the last three seasons, so maybe he hits .279 in 2020? He had 11 outs above average at second base. 2015 first round pick Kevin Newman had a good first full year, hitting 12 home runs with 16 stolen bases, a .308 average and an OPS of .800. Newman can play second and third base as well as his primary position of shortstop. Newman struck out just 11.7% of the time in 2019. Colin Moran, the 3rd player in the Cole trade (the 4th and final player, Jason Martin, has a decent chance at making the roster in the outfield), hit 13 home runs and had the exact same batting average of .277 for the second year in a row. His fielding at third base isn't great, with -7 outs above average. His brother Brian debuted last year for the Marlins, and his uncle, BJ Surhoff was drafted 1st overall in 1985 (his other uncle, Phil Surhoff, also played in the MLB). Utility infielder Erik Gonzalez played in 53 games after being acquired from Cleveland. He has a career OPS of .659. Gonzalez has good speed, with a sprint speed of 28.6 ft/s last year. Jose Osuna could be the DH, or play first and Bell would then be the designated hitter. Osuna hit 10 home runs with a .766 OPS in 95 games last year. He can also play the corner outfield spots. JT Riddle has played centerfield before, but the Pirates could test him out in left and right. Over three seasons for the Marlins, Riddle hit 18 home runs with 79 RBIs, a .229 average and an OPS of .638. Riddle had an average exit velocity of 88.9 mph last year. Former 1st rounder Cole Tucker also has a chance to make the squad.

       Outfielders
Bryan Reynolds was snubbed of being a Rookie of the Year finalist. Acquired with Crick from San Francisco for former MVP Andrew McCutchen, Reynolds hit 16 home runs with a .314 average and an .880 OPS while playing left field. Reynolds hit 14 home runs with a batting average of .341 against fastballs. To make up for the loss of Starling Marte, the Pirates signed a pair of OFs in Jarrod Dyson in Guillermo Heredia, with the latter likely being the 4th outfielder. Dyson, known to be one of the league's fastest players, stole 30 bases last year for Marte's new team, the Diamondbacks. Dyson also hit a career high seven home runs. Dyson had six outs above average combined at all three outfield positions last season. Gregory Polanco, a two-time 20+ home run hitter, played in just 42 games last year. He hit six home runs with three stolen bases, a .242 average and an OPS of .726. The tall lefty had an average exit velocity of 89.4 mph. Heredia spent last year in Tampa Bay, where he hit five home runs, the same amount he hit in 2018, but he played in 36 more games that year. Heredia had a career high .668 OPS. Jason Martin might not stay with the team all year, as rosters revert from 30 men down to 28 and eventually 26. Martin, who is from Corona, California, a town that might not be embracing their name right now, had a .631 OPS in 20 games last year, his first taste of MLB action. Martin, who was a top-30 prospect in the organization, had an average exit velocity of 91 miles per hour, but only had 26 batted balls.

       Projected Opening Day Lineup
SS Kevin Newman (R)
LF Bryan Reynolds (S)
1B Josh Bell (S)
3B Colin Moran (L)
RF Gregory Polanco (L)
2B Adam Frazier (L)
DH Jose Osuna (R)
C Jacob Stallings (R)
CF Jarrod Dyson (L)

        Projected Rotation
Joe Musgrove (R)
Trevor Williams (R)
Mitch Keller (R)
Derek Holland (L)
Chad Kuhl (R)

       Projected Bullpen
Keone Kela (R)
Richard Rodriguez (R)
Kyle Crick (R)
Michael Feliz (R)
Chris Stratton (R)
Steven Brault (L)
Clay Holmes (R)
Nick Burdi (R)
Dovydas Neverauskas (R)
Robbie Erlin (L)
Yacksel Rios (R)

       Projected Bench
C Luke Maile (R)
IF Erik Gonzalez (R)
UT JT Riddle (L)
OF Guillermo Heredia (R)
OF Jason Martin (L)

Baseball-Reference OOTP Simulator Stats
42-54 record, 4th in NL Central
Most home runs: Gregory Polanco (15)
Highest batting average: Adam Frazier (.328)
Highest OPS: Adam Frazier (.860)
Best ERA, starters: Trevor Williams (3.53)
Best ERA, relievers: Richard Rodriguez (1.75)
Most innings pitched: Joe Musgrove (116.1)
Most strikeouts: Joe Musgrove (105)
Best K/9: Keone Kela (11.2)

Record through 60 games, last five seasons:
2019: 29-31
2018: 30-30
2017: 26-34
2016: 32-28
2015: 33-37

       Prediction
The Pirates are not very good. With teams like the Cardinals, Brewers and Cubs in the division making recent playoff appearances, and the Reds making many improvements, the Pirates have fallen behind their NL Central competitors. I predict that they will finish last in the NL Central, and 14th in the National League.

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