2014 Record and Finish ———— 88-74 2nd in NL Central, Lost in WC game
Last season: Two years ago the Pirates made the playoffs for the first time in living
memory for a lot of us. They followed it up last season with another winning effort and a Wild Card appearance. Unfortunately #Buctober was short-lived as they were bounced from the postseason by the eventual champions San Francisco. It was a long road just to get there though as Pittsburg was just one game over .500 halfway through the season. They even survived a mid-August seven game losing streak by reeling off seventeen September wins. The Buccos did a little bit of everything finishing top ten in both runs scored and runs allowed. Andrew McCutchen had an MVP caliber season at the plate and with the glove unfortunately did not bring home any hardware because he shares a league with the Left Arm of God 2.0. He raked though hitting .315 with 25 HRs and 83 RBI’s. Most impressive though was his otherworldly .410 OBP. No less impressive were breakout seasons from Josh Harrison, Neil Walker, and Starling Marte. The much anticipated prospect Gregory Polanco struggled in his first go round with the big boys, but in a lineup in which all nine starters hit double digit dingers, a bad rookie year can be overshadowed. As for the pitching the best numbers came from… drum roll please… Edinson Volquez. That’s right the Pirates with their quality coaching and savy defensive shifts resurrected the career of another starter. Following 7 straight 4.00+ ERA seasons Volquez plummeted to 3.04 in 192 innings of work. The rest of the rotation as well performed admirably all churning out ERA’s under four. The bullpen was fantastic as well led by the trio of Tony Watson, Mark Melancon, and Jared Hughes. While the season didn’t end in a win, I think Pirates fans can live with consistent trips to the second season for now.
Departures: Edinson Volquez RHP, Gaby Sanchez 1B, Russell Martin C, Clint Barmes SS, Justin Wilson LHP, Travis Snider OF
Acquisitions: Francisco Cerevilli C, Justin Sellers SS, Rob Scahill RHP, Antonio Bastardo LHP, Clayton Richard LHP, Corey Hart OF, Jung-ho Kang SS, Steve Lombardozzi UTIL, AJ Burnett RHP
Outlook: I think it is fair to say that Pittsburgh would generally not be considered the
big shakers and movers of an off-season. It was no different this year. The departures list is relatively short, and the acquisitions were small moves to replace guys or add depth. On the pitching side of things losing Volquez may seem like a big loss, but I’ll refer to my previous paragraph as to why it is not. He will be back in his usual ERA range in 2015, as his success was due to some luck and the pitcher whispering of the Bucs. Left in the rotation will be Francisco Liriano, AJ Burnett, Gerrit Cole, and of course two others. Those spots are in question but I would expect Jeff Locke and Vance Worley to get the jobs. AJ Burnett returns to Pittsburgh for his age 38 season after a one year stint on the other side of the state. Reports were he came back to west PA for a discount although $12.75 million doesn’t sound like much of one. He is coming off hernia surgery so that will something to keep an eye on. Gerrit Cole hasn’t quite been the ace we were all expecting, but this may be the year he stays healthy and puts it all together. Regardless him and Liriano make for a formidable one-two punch at the top. The last two guys will be solid if not unspectacular and overall this should be one of the deeper staffs in the majors. Clayton Richard could be a sneaky good minor league contract pickup. Once again in the late innings they will be handing the ball over to a quality pen. Not as quality as we saw last year as I would expect regression from the three mentioned previously, but they are great options for manager Clint Hurdle to turn to.
On the offensive side of things the Pirates should pick up right where they left off. The void left by catcher Russell Martin will definitely be a tough one to fill. It isn’t quite as bad as it looks though as Martin will no way repeat his spectacular 2014 performance. We’ll probably see a fifty point drop in BA from him so the only real loss is the power he provides. Not the only loss as he provides outstanding defense behind the plate, but Francisco Cervelli will be above average in that regard. By the way don’t be excited about Cervelli’s .300 average last year, it was way inflated by his BABIP. Travis Snider represents a loss of nearly 400 plate appearances, but replacing them with Polanco will probably prove to be an upgrade once the young stud finds his way in The Show. The rest of the moves really were to add depth. Having guys like Corey Hart and Steve Lombardozzi to turn to on your bench though is truly a lift. The most intriguing signing is that of Jung-ho Kang. Kang earned himself $11 million dollars after putting up video game numbers for the Nexen Heroes in the Korean Baseball Organization. Those numbers would be .356/.459/.739 with 40 HR’s and 117 RBI’s. Obviously there are questions about how the raise in talent will affect his numbers, and he doesn’t have a guaranteed spot with the Bucs, but that kind of power potential from a middle infielder is worth taking a gamble on. If manages to crack into the lineup I would not be surprised to see yet another international success story. In the end I really like the offseason the Pirates had. They didn’t lose much at all even if they didn’t make a flashy move. This is a team that is close though and I don’t think a big move was necessary.
Prediction: I’m going to peg the Pirates as the winner of the NL Central. Tough to pick against the Cardinals, but I think Pittsburgh is the better team and this is the year they finally end up on top. Great opportunity to make #Buctober last a little longer this year as well.