The Pittsburgh Pirates have been to baseball what the St. Louis Blues have been to hockey in the last three years. The Pirates have gone to the post-season three seasons in a row and they have won the second most games in baseball during that span. However, like the Blues, they have been knocked out of the playoffs early far too often. One could argue that Pittsburgh is the moneyball team of the 2010’s ERA. They have developed new analytics such as pitch framing and crafted the defensive shift. However, teams have followed suit and their technical edge is likely at a low point. They are banking on some unproven pitchers to provide big innings for them and praying that their budget team can compete with the Cardinals and Cubs in 2016.
The Pirates infield is led by Jung-ho Kang, a Korean import who had a break out MLB debut season. Kang is a big time infielder who hits for average and power with solid defensive skills. Pittsburgh has Kang signed for an absolute bargain price. John Harrison can play pretty much any infield position and will hit around .300. Jody Mercer is coming off of a disappointing year at short stop but we expect him to turn it around following that injury riddled season. The Pirates starting first baseman, Michael Morse had the worst season of his career in 2015 and will look to improve on his .213 batting average. Pittsburgh has a decent infield but they could use improvements at first base and short stop.
It is Andrew McCutchen’s outfield at PNC Park. The franchise outfielder hit for less than a .300 average for the first time in three seasons but he was still as spectacular as ever. Expect another quality year for the Pirates #1 player. Starling Marte is in left field and he continues to be an above average outfielder with plate potential. The drawbacks are obviously his strikeout rate and his low walk percentage. Gregory Polanco rounds out the outfield and he is a solid option but his power leaves something to be desired. With that being said, the Pirates have a nicely balanced outfield unit.
Francisco Cervelli emerged in a huge way for the Pirates in 2015. He was their most valuable player and at 23 years of age, he has no where to go but up. If he can continue to stay healthy, there is no reason that he can’t continue to be a top rate catcher. This is Cervelli’s final year before free agency which means he will likely not be a Pirate for much longer.
Gerrit Cole was the Pirates best starter last season, throwing for a 2.60 ERA in over 208 innings. We expect the newly minted ace to continue to put together league best numbers. Francisco Liriano was one of the best signings Pittsburgh made last season, with a three year deal worth $39 million. He exceeded every expectation by throwing 186 innings with a 3.38 ERA. Expect a slight regression from Liriano, but he stills looks like a phenomenal add from the Pirates front office. Jeff Locke has been good enough but will likely depart from Pittsburgh once some of the young guns get a spot in the rotation. Jon Niese was acquired for Neil Walker over the off season and it was a well designed trade. Each team getting to trade a position they were crowded at for a need. Niese declined last season, being way too predictable but there’s certainly a possibility that he could resurge in Pittsburgh. It wouldn’t be the first time a degrading starter found his stuff again at PNC Park. Ryan Vogelsong will be the fifth start for now after being signed to a $2 million contract +incentives in December. Vogelsong posted a 4.67 ERA and 4 BB/9 last year.
Pittsburgh has a decent bullpen that is heavy in the backend with Tony Watson and Mark Melancon providing a one-two punch. Jared Hughes is coming off of a solid season and has given the Pirates two extraordinary efforts. Rob Scahill was excellent when given the chance last year and should be another shot at the big leagues. The Pirates also have prospects Jameson Taillon who was a former 2nd overall pick and Tyler Glasnow who could add depth to the rotation or the pen if needed this season. One of them will likely replace Vogelsong in the rotation.
The Pirates are going to be rolling the rock up a steep hill in 2016. However, they have some pitching depth and enough power to cause damage. They haven’t done enough in the offseason to make them a legitimate threat for the top slot in the NL Central Division. We expect the Pirates to battle for 2nd place in the Central but ultimately fall short and continue to be relegated to the Wild Card playoff game.
Odds to win World Series: +2000