Mar 18, 2013, 10:47 PM EDT
Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2013 season. Up next: The Pittsburgh Pirates.
The Big Question: Can the Buccos break .500 for the first time since the 1992 season?
It is absolutely possible. The Pirates finished only four games under the .500 mark (79-83) in 2012 and seem capable of significant improvement in 2013. Andrew McCutchen has been a star for years but truly had a breakout 2012 campaign, posting career highs in batting average (.327), homers (31), RBI (96) and runs scored (107). His .953 OPS was higher than his previous best by a whole 112 points. Maybe some regression is coming, but then again maybe it’s not.
McCutchen isn’t the only difference-maker in the Pirates’ lineup. Starling Marte hit .286/.347/.500 with 12 homers, 13 triples and 21 stolen bases in 100 games last season at Triple-A Indianapolis before getting called up to Pittsburgh and giving the National League a taste of his potential down the stretch. He’ll bat leadoff this year in front of Neil Walker, who proved his legitimacy in 2012 by producing a career-high 14 home runs in 129 games while lifting his average, OBP and slugging percentage all from where they were in 2011.
Pirates first baseman Garrett Jones also produced a career-best home run total last season, slugging 27 in 145 games. He had 16 homers in 148 games in 2011. And then there’s third baseman Pedro Alvarez, who is entering his physical prime at age 26 and tallied 30 big flies last year at age 25. The Bucs have a handful of legitimate power bats, and free agent acquisition Russell Martin should only help the run-production. He was handed a two-year, $17 million contract this winter to provide needed stability behind the plate.
This is not a bad National League offense, and the rotation looks better than it has in over a decade.
Wandy Rodriguez registered a 3.72 ERA in 75 innings with the Pirates last season after arriving in a July 25 trade with Houston. The veteran left-hander owns a 3.48 ERA in 934 2/3 innings since 2008. A.J. Burnett has found new life in the Steel City and was almost ace-like in 2012, spreading a 3.51 ERA over 200-plus frames. James McDonald has flashed potential, and Gerrit Cole — the No. 1 overall pick from 2011 — is expected to reach the major leagues in June. Jameson Taillon — the No. 2 overall pick in 2010 — is also getting close.
These aren’t your older cousin’s Pirates. Las Vegas gives them an over/under of 77.5 wins. I like the over, and I think they can approach something like 85 victories if their most important players stay healthy all year.
What Else Is Going On?
- Left-hander Francisco Liriano could also be of help to the Pittsburgh rotation at some point in 2013. He originally agreed to a two-year, $14 million free agent contract with the Bucs in December, but he injured his right (non-throwing) arm before making that deal official and had to settle for an adjusted two-year, $12.75 million pact. Liriano has posted an ugly 5.23 ERA and 1.48 WHIP over his last 291 innings, but he was a force for the Twins in 2010 and he’s only 29 years old. Liriano will be recovered by May.
- The Pirates held a share of first place in the National League Central on July 25, 2011, only to go 19-43 over their final 62 games. They had a share of first place on July 18, 2012, and then came another late-season fade. Fair or not, much of the blame for this inability to finish strong has fallen on the broad shoulders of manager Clint Hurdle. He is currently under contract through 2014, but failing to meet expectations this year could irk the club’s higher-ups to the point where they want to make a change.
- The Pittsburgh bullpen isn’t great. Last year’s closer, Joel Hanrahan, was traded to Boston this winter in a six-player swap. Jason Grilli was very good last season and should do fine as the new ninth-inning man, but getting leads to him may be an issue. Mark Melancon, who came to Pittsburgh in that Hanrahan deal, posted a 6.20 ERA across 45 innings with the Red Sox in 2012. Tony Watson is solid but not dominant, and Jared Hughes fits that same profile. It’s not an especially exciting group.
- Those back-to-back late-season tumbles have only been made possible by back-to-back early-season success, which has helped pumped life into one of the most well-designed sports stadiums in the world. PNC Park hosted 2,091,918 fans in 2012, up from 1,940,429 fans in 2011 and 1,613,399 million in 2010. Pittsburgh is among the best pro sports towns in the country, and Major League Baseball is always going to better off when its team there is worth watching. “Raise the Jolly Roger” and all that.
Prediction: Third place in the National League Central, behind the Reds and Cardinals.
Jul 26, 2014, 1:31 PM EDT
Astros prospect right-hander Mark Appel had his best start of the season on Thursday and now he’s set to be promoted to Double-A.
Jul 26, 2014, 1:08 PM EDT
Veteran right-hander Jake Peavy is headed back to the National League and will be reunited with Bruce Bochy.
Jul 26, 2014, 12:31 PM EDT
Blue Jays slugger Edwin Encarnacion hasn’t played since July 5 due to a right quadriceps strain and now his absence appears likely to stretch into August.
Jul 26, 2014, 11:40 AM EDT
The Cardinals have added A.J. Pierzynski as a veteran alternative behind the plate with Yadier Molina sidelined due to a thumb injury.
Jul 26, 2014, 10:32 AM EDT
Big news coming out of Cooperstown this morning, as the National Baseball Hall of Fame announced their first changes to the voting process since 1991.
Jul 26, 2014, 10:09 AM EDT
Jon Lester wants to stay in Boston and is open to returning even if the Red Sox trade him in the coming days.
Jul 26, 2014, 9:31 AM EDT
Only Rudy York (1937) and Mark McGwire (1987) got there faster.
Jul 26, 2014, 8:55 AM EDT
A quick recap of a busy Friday around MLB, including another win for the red-hot Rays.
Jul 26, 2014, 12:28 AM EDT
Triples galore for the Dodgers in San Francisco on Friday night.
Jul 25, 2014, 11:55 PM EDT
Ichiro Suzuki went yard for the first time this season, taking Mark Buehrle deep. He had previously homered on August 30 last year against the Orioles.
Jul 25, 2014, 11:25 PM EDT
Jose Bautista isn’t a huge fan of the beards Athletics Derek Norris and Sean Doolittle are sporting.
Jul 25, 2014, 10:55 PM EDT
The Independent League is taking measures to speed up games. Could MLB do the same?
According to Five Thirty Eight, Billy Beane’s A’s have exceeded expectations by nearly $1.38 billion
Jul 25, 2014, 10:15 PM EDT
We knew Billy Beane was good… but that good?
Jul 25, 2014, 9:35 PM EDT
The Cardinals are trying to add yet another catcher in A.J. Pierzynski, which would mean George Kottaras could be on his way out.
Jul 25, 2014, 8:45 PM EDT
The struggling Daisuke Matsuzaka will have his elbow examined, which will let the Mets know how to proceed.
Jul 25, 2014, 7:55 PM EDT
Jimmy Rollins needed 1,100 plate appearances total between 2013-14 in order for his $11 million option for 2015 to become guaranteed. He hit PA #1,100 during tonight’s game against the Diamondbacks.
Jul 25, 2014, 7:40 PM EDT
Yasiel Puig and Hanley Ramirez are back. Making things even more interesting, Puig will play center field.
Jul 25, 2014, 6:55 PM EDT
Jesus Montero gets the boot back to Triple-A to make room for the recently-acquired Kendrys Morales.
Jul 25, 2014, 6:10 PM EDT
Dan Uggla is back in the big leagues! What could go wrong?
Jul 25, 2014, 5:19 PM EDT
Career minor leaguer Jake Smolinski got a chance in Texas because of the Rangers’ never-ending injuries and took advantage by hitting .389 in 11 games, but now he’s headed to their crowded disabled list with a bone bruise in his foot.
- Giants acquire Jake Peavy from Red Sox 14
- Maximum stay on Hall of Fame ballot changed from 15 to 10 years 36
- Jon Lester is willing to return to the Red Sox as a free agent even if they trade him 18
- Jose Abreu is third-fastest in MLB history to reach 30 career home runs 7
- Settling the Score: Friday’s results 20
- How’d he do that? Magician Maddux fooled hitters all the way to Hall 23
- And That Happened: Thursday’s scores and highlights 46
- MLBPA files grievance against Astros in regard to draft pick situation 35
- Expert’s Corner: How to troll fans of all 30 teams (200)
- Verducci: baseball should think about an “illegal defense” rule to combat shifts (162)
- Yankees acquire Chase Headley from Padres (108)
- Who is the next Face of Baseball? (97)
- David Ortiz passes Carl Yastrzemski on the all-time home run list — is he a Hall of Famer? (92)