Wednesday, April 4, 2012
2012 Pittsburgh Pirates Preview
Here we are, baseball season is coming up in a matter of hours and the 2012 Pittsburgh Pirates will be taking the field hoping to break the longest streak of losing by any major sports team there is. I know, you already knew that but I just had to say it because it kind of flowed. It really hurt to write also if that made you feel any better.
The Pirates will look a lot different on the field this year as the front office did a pretty nice job of getting some free agents in here and not picking up some pretty bad options so at this point I think I would say that it was a successful offseason. Gone are Pirate mainstays in Paul Maholm and Ryan Doumit to go along with Ronny Cedeno and in are pitchers A.J. Burnett and Erik Bedard along with Casey McGehee and Clint Barmes.
While nobody is going to look at this team and think they are going to contend for the NL Central crown, which they are not, I think they will see a little more consistency this year from the Pirates. It also doesn’t hurt that in the offseason the Pirates inked stud centerfielder Andrew McCutchen to a six year $51.5M deal with a club option at the end that will keep McCutchen in a Pirates uniform for as many as three of his free agent years. This put the offseason in the win column in a big way for the Pirates and now we are starting to see the front office plans taking the next step. By no means does this mean that the Pirates are going to be in the playoffs in the next three years but it is a much better position than the Pirates ever were in the Bonifay, Littlefield or McClatchy.
Last season the Pirates just weren’t that good overall. Offensively they ended the year hitting .244 which was the eighth lowest in the majors and ranked just as low in OBP (.309) and slugging percentage (.368). Not only were they pretty bad putting the ball in play as they nearly the tops in the league 21.6% strikeout rate but they did finish near the middle of the pack in walk rate at 8.1%. Power is something that the Pirates have always struggled with the missing of a true power bat and they were near the bottom of the league with only 107 home runs and a .123 ISO. What is going to be interesting this year offensively is that the Penguins will have a pretty good lineup one through four but after that it gets really murky and for as good as the top four can be the bottom four can be just as bad.
As a whole the Pirates did actually fare well on the mound. They started off the season on a tear but really regressed to the means as the season went on. The Pirates boasted a 4.05 team ERA which was right in line with their xFIP (4.00). The Buccos finished third from the bottom of the league in K/9 innings only fanning 6.40 per nine. While not getting a ton of strikeouts isn’t good what may be worse is the fact that they were the bottom-10 in the league in walks allowed at 3.32 per nine innings. The Pirates WHIP will also need to improve if they want to take the next step as they allowed a 1.41 WHIP in 2011 despite having a fringe top-10 left on base % (73.7%). 2012 will be different because of the additions of Burnett and Bedard who have shown the ability to strike guys out which could drastically improve the K/9 number that the Pirates struggle so much at.
It comes down to this. I go through and break down all of the Pirates starters and all five rotation guys as well as give a brief couple of sentences on the bench and bullpen. The 2012 season officially kicks off with this. Enjoy.
Hit the jump for the previews.
2011 – 478 PA, .243/.321/.433, 16 HR, 51 runs, .328 wOBA, 0.9 WAR
Jones is in an interesting position this year for the Pirates. He is able to play a couple of different positions (outfield, first base) but this year he is going to be looked at as the primary first base option for the first time in his tenure here. Now when I say that he is going to be the primary guy I really mean that against right handed pitching because he is just dreadful against left handed pitching. Last season Jones hit only .147 in 68 at bats against lefties and had an on base percentage of .181 and a slugging percentage of .279. Just not good. In his career he has a triple slash line of .199/.237/.364 in 396 at bats. Yikes. Against righties in his career he is much, much, better hitting for a .275/.354/.483 in 1152 plate appearances. So as you can see it would be the best for everyone around if Jones could stick to a strict platoon and play him against lefties as little as possible. Jones is a very viable option offensively although his defense leaves a lot to be desired but when he might be one of the only power sources on the team you might have to deal with that. Last year he left the ballpark 16 times which was a little below his 2009 and 2010 production where he hit 21 out each year so I would be much happier with something around 20 bombs.
2011 – 600 PA, .223/.280/.346, 13 HR, 46 runs, .272 wOBA, 0.3 WAR
McGehee comes over to the Pirates after being picked up in a swap from Milwaukee for former set up man Jose Veras. McGehee is going to be asked to be very versatile with the Pirates much like a lot of the infielders that are going to be suiting up for the Buccos. He is a third baseman my trade but will be in the platoon role with Jones to get a lot of the hitting against left handed pitching. He could earn more playing time if Pedro Alvarez struggles or if he returns to his 2010 form but at the start of the season he won’t be a truce “everyday” player. McGehee was very good in both 2009 and 2010 but really hit rock bottom in 2011 and everyone is going to be wondering if that is going to be an outlier or a sign of things to come. He was a three win player in 2010 but fell down to replacement level last year hitting for a .223/.280/.346 line where the Brewers saw his home run total only up to 13 after hitting 39 in the two years prior. McGehee isn’t going to strike out a ton with a career average of only 16.6% so that should help as Jones is much more prone to that. He should also see a boost in his BABIP as it was .250 which is much lower than his career average of .290. His line drive percentage last year (16.2%) was just about the same as his 2010 level (16.9%) and right around his career average (17.6%) so I would assume that he is going to be able to bounce back from last season. He does not have very much experience at first base so he is probably not going to be someone the Pirates can rely on defensively but like Jones the offense will be much needed from a first base spot that the Pirates have got little or no production from in the recent past. He will also be able to step in and play some decent third base.
2011 – 662 PA, .273/.334/.408, 12 HR, 76 runs, .322 wOBA, 3.0 WAR
Walker is a guy that I have no idea how to pin. With Andrew McCutchen getting the big extension most people think that Walker is the guy that the Pirates should lock up next but I think I need to see a little more from him with some consistency. He is a streaky hitter that is great when he is on but can just be dreadful when he’s not. Last year Walker started out the season great with a .301/.386/.447 line in March and April but that was short lived as he produced pretty bad months in May (.227/.287/.381) and June (.213/.303/309). He bounced back for a nice line in July (.366/.404/.485) but then slipped back to an average August/September/October. While it was nice to get that start from Walker you just can’t afford him to go missing for two months in the middle of the season. I think Walker is more around a .270ish hitter with a little bit of pop but I think people expect a little bit too much of that from Walker and are prisoners of him being a hometown guy. Walker did improve his defense by a substantial bit in the 2011 season but he still probably ranks average, or below, overall at second base but I think he gives the Pirates a really nice option there if he can show some consistency. Walker also lowered his K% last season and really showed improvement to not striking out but I would like to see his BB% improve a little bit more (8.2% last year). Walker is a nice piece for the Pirates but not in the four spot where he will most likely hit. A lot of people get excited about the RBI total but I would look past that as RBI’s don’t really tell you a ton about the player that actually has them. It will be interesting to see if Walker can take the next step and if he does that will improve the Pirates offense a lot.
2011 – 495 PA, .244/.312/.386, 12 HR, 47 runs, .308 wOBA, 3.1 WAR
Barmes joins the Pirates after a year with the Astros and a bunch more with the Colorado Rockies where he used to be coached by Clint Hurdle. Barmes was a three win player last year and should bring a little more to the table than Ronny Cedeno should but it will be interesting to see how Barmes’ offensive numbers look in moving to PNC Park rather than the hitter friendly ballparks that Houston and Colorado play in. Last season Barmes hit 12 home runs and every one of those 12 went to right field which will be much harder to do in the vast outfield of PNC than in Minute Maid Park. Five of his home runs last season would only clear the fence at less than 10 stadiums while only five of them would clear in 25 or more of the MLB parks. Not sure how you want to take that but his power numbers, namely home runs, is going to take a hit in 2012. While some offense from the shortstop position would be nice the real value of Barmes comes on the defensive end. Statistically he had h is best defensive year last season with a 7.9 UZR and should be an improvement from Ronny Cedeno who had a nice year in 2011 but was far too inconsistent in the field to be relied on. He should be average, or below average, offensively but you really didn’t know what you were going to get from Ronny Cedeno. The gamble on Barmes was the two year deal they gave him but this wasn’t meant to talk about that.
2011 – 262 PA, .191/.272/.289, 4 HR, 18 runs, .256 wOBA, -0.8 WAR
If there is one player that probably feels like he has the weight of a team on his shoulders and could really mean that it would be Pedro Alvarez. Nobody has been more scrutinized (justly) than Alvarez over the last year and while he only has about a year’s worth of plate appearances under his belt there are people ready to label him a bust. He started his career in 2010 with a .256/.326/.461 line in 386 plate appearances with 16 home runs. He followed that up with a dreadful 2011 which was limited to only 262 plate appearances and only drilling four home runs and having an OPS under .600. The real concern for Alvarez are alarmingly high at 30.7% for his career and has been over 30% in both of his major league seasons. Last season Alvarez was remarkably low in his O-Contact % which is the percentage of pitches a player makes contact with inside the strike zone at 56.3% which is well below the league average of 69.1% while his overall contact percentage is only 72% which is below the league average of 81%. Pedro also swings through 13% (8.6% league average) of pitches which when mixed with the other numbers can give you an idea of how he might be struggling. This is not something that can be easily explained but Alvarez needs to produce at the plate if he is going to have success at the major league level. It seems to be all about head games with Alvarez who just can’t seem to get out of his own way but after about a week of bad at bats to start the season the boo birds will be loud in Pittsburgh. I have hopes for him but if he wants to stick in the lineup for a full season (which he needs) he will need to produce. Alvarez is never going to be a high average guy but if he can get around the .260 range that would be a massive upgrade and if that happens the power will be there. If he can get his strikeouts down to around 26% we will see a new player. Alvarez isn’t a great third baseman but he did make improvements last season. He is never going to win a gold glove but if he makes the same strides as last year he should be workable at the hot corner.
2011 – 337 PA, .230/.287/.430, 16 HR, 29 runs, .307 wOBA, 1.6 WAR
Mr. Barajas is one old human being. He is 36 years old and has lead a career that has taken him through six different teams with the Pirates being the seventh team. With the departure of Ryan Doumit and Chris Snyder the Pirates weren’t going to rest their hopes on Mike McKenry so they went out and got Barajas early. It is late in his career and you shouldn’t really expect to see a whole ton from Barajas but he will be able to be a steady guy behind the plate that can handle a pitching staff much better than Ryan Doumit was ever able to do. He will not be able to give you the offensive production of Doumit but you never knew from year to hear how many games Doumit was going to play. Last season Barajas struck out 21.1% of his plate appearances which was his highest total since the 2001 season but was able to have a .200 ISO in 98 games. He hasn’t played more than 100 games since 2009 which is concerning but if he can get the Pirates around 110 or 120 games with similar production from last season then I think the Pirates would take that. Something that was a problem for the Pirates last year was controlling the running game but Barajas should help as he caught 25% of would be base stealers in 2011 which was actually below his career average of 31%. Offensively Barjas isn’t going to run the bases well and even getting on base might be tough as he hasn’t had an OBP of .295 or better since the 2007 season. He does still have some pop in his bat as evidence by hitting 16 or more home runs in each of the last three seasons. He is going to probably be a below average hitter but the power and consistency behind the plate is what I am going to be looking for as the Pirates got little to no help from the catching position last season.
2011 – 231 PA, .298/.339/.465, 4 HR, 27 runs, .350 wOBA, 1.2 WAR
Last year Presley burst on to the scene thanks to some injuries and he had a pretty good year in his first true shot at playing in the major leagues. He will start the year as the starting right fielder and while some might think this is a guy that is young and can be part of the future he is already 26 years old and will turn 27 in a few months. He only played in 52 games last season but was able to compile a .804 OPS and a 122 wRC+. Presley is blessed with some great speed and while he only stole nine bases a year ago he stole 22 in only 87 games in AAA before his call up. Presley will start the season at the top of the lineup and can use his speed to create extra base hits as evident by his six triples last year while also hitting 12 doubles. The one thing that Presley is going ot have to improve on if he wants to stick at the top of the lineup is his walk rate which was only 5.6% last season while he struck out 17.3% of his plate appearances a season ago. Presley ideally should be in the two spot of the lineup with the limited walk rate and with a much better chance of not hitting into the double play like his counterpart Jose Tabata. Presley has the speed to cover a ton of ground in the vast left field of PNC Park but is probably only an average fielder overall where his speed can help him make up for some bad routes. I personally am not really high on Presley as most people are but I think he will be a solid option in a corner outfield spot. What makes it hard is that the Pirates committed to Tabata with the long term deal so you know he will most likely be there and with Presley unlikely to provide any more power (he is older) that leaves your corner outfield spots with little to no power. If it were me I think Presley would be a good candidate to get moved at some point next year but that is really just a stab in the dark and probably won’t be moved unless the Pirates are blown away.
2011 – 382 PA, .266/.349/.362, 4 HR, 53 runs, .320 wOBA, 1.0 WAR
Most people who read the blog often should know that I am a Tabata fanboy. I love what he brings to the table and in the little look that the Pirates have of him in the past two seasons there is some stuff to be excited about a kid that could possibly leadoff for the team for years to come. Last season was cut shorts and limited to only 91 games with injuries and it finished as largely a struggle after a very productive 2010 season. Last season was not all bad for Tabata as he make a remarkable jump in his plate patients boasting his walk rate to 10.5% after finishing the 2010 season at only 6.3%. Tabata did a great job of making contact (84.2%) and doesn’t swing through pitches very often (6.4%). The trouble with Tabata, and why he is much better suited for the leadoff spot (besides the ability to take a pitch) is that he largely hits the ball on the ground as he was far and away the team leader with a ground ball percentage of 61.2% and the team’s lowest fly ball rate of 22%. While Tabata had a higher walk rate last season his strikeout rate also went up to 16% after striking out only 13% of his plate appearances in 2010. As the ground ball rate may tell you the power really isn’t going to be there for Tabata and while he will hit a couple of balls out of the park a year it isn’t something you should expect. He might develop a little more power as he moves forward but I wouldn’t expect too much more. He contributed 18 doubles and a triple last season which isn’t anything to get excited about but I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see the double totals go up as Tabata is really the true sense of the gap to gap hitter. His ISO dropped below .100 last year and it was only .101 in 2010 and that pretty much stays in line with his minor league numbers which only had him above a .125 ISO one time in his minor league career with at least 100 plate appearances. Tabata will play right field this season and is a pretty good defensive outfield and will play some center on the occasion where McCutchen gets the day off. He does have speed but it isn’t in the McCutchen or Presley range but he did steal 16 bases last year and 19 the year before and if he can get the green light I can see 25-30 steals. Overall I think Tabata can be the breakout guy this season. I think he has the skills and while he doesn’t provide a lot of power I think he can be a mainstay at the top of the lineup and set the table for the players behind him.
2011 – 678 PA, .259/.364/.456, 23 HR, 87 runs, .360 wOBA, 5.7 WAR
McCutchen is far and away the most talented player on the major league roster and the Pirates rewarded him as such with a fat contract this offseason that will keep him in a Pirates uniform for as many as three of his free agent years. It was really great to see and now it is time for McCutchen to put together a full season of production and if he does that we could truly see an MVP debate for the stud centerfielder. In his major league career he has been at least a 3.5 win player and has displayed all five tools in his game. Last season was the tale of two halves as he was a monster in the first half of the year with a .291/.390/.505 triple slash line with 14 home runs, 22 doubles and 15 stolen bases but really fell off the cliff with a second half to forget which included a .216/.330/.392 line with only nine home runs, 12 doubles and eight stolen bases. In my opinion McCutchen really tried to do a little too much the second half of the year. The Pirates started to slide and the offense was pretty brutal on most night and McCutchen might have got a little home run happy and it showed in his performance. His strikeout rate rose to almost 19% but in the same respect he did a really nice job on his plate discipline by upping his walk rate by almost 3% to a 13.1% clip. The power is there for McCutchen to put up huge numbers while also maintaining the high average as he should hover around a .185 ISO with around 25 home runs and somewhere around 175 or so hits. While McCutchen isn’t going to win a gold glove his defense did improve last season and if it can continue to take steps it will only make him a more valuable player on the field. His speed is going to make up for some bad breaks on the ball he takes but the thing I would most like to see improved is the decision making with the throws he makes. Knowing which base to throw to and the situation is something that he struggles with and is a main reason that I don’t necessarily hold him in as high of regards as some do with his defense. McCutchen should steal some more bases this year and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him with 35 or more steals this year if he decides to go. Last season he had the green light but as Clint Hurdle said they would almost have to force him to run. If he is confident on the bases the sky is the limit and not only will that get him the extra base but it will also give his teammates better pitches to hit when he is on base. The sky is the limit with McCutchen and I think this is the year we see him put a full season together and if he does watch out.
The bench should be pretty solid for the Pirates this year as I feel a good bit better about it than I have in the past couple of years. Obviously the guy that is not platooning at first base will be on the bench and I have talked about who those guys are so we don’t need to get into that. Nate McLouth will be back in Pittsburgh after spending some time in Atlanta after the Pirates traded him for Charlie Morton, among others, and although McLouth was pretty bad in Atlanta (.229/.335/.364) he should be a nice addition to the outfield as he could play any of the three spots. I don’t expect McLouth to be back to his form before he left Pittsburgh but I don’t expect him to be nearly as bad as he was in Atlanta. Mike McKenry will be the backup catcher after having a pretty poor last year all the way around. A lot of people love McKenry because he is scrappy and because he hit a huge home run against the Cubs but he finished the year with 201 plate appearances and a .222/.276/.322 line and really doesn’t offer much of anything offensively. He is about average behind the plate and should be good in the backup role but asking him to play a ton of games will probably not be a good thing but with Barajas’ age you never know. I wouldn’t be shocked to see another catcher at some point for the backup role. Josh Harrison might not make the team out of camp but he will be a part of the team this year. Harrison is another one of those scrappy guys that the fans love but he was very average last year. He earned 204 plate appearances last year and hit for a .272/.281/.374 line. That is not a mistake, the batting average and on base percentage are really that close. He only drew three walks and while he is a good contact hitter that number has to improve if he wants to have any success in the majors. Yamaico Navarro should make the team out of camp and will be the primary backup at shortstop but can also play the other infield positions. In his career he has 112 plate appearances so there isn’t too much to go off of but he is decent with the bat and has a .279/.358/.430 line in his minor league career. Matt Hague might make the team out of camp but we should see him soon if he doesn’t. Hague just hits the baseball to the tune of a .302/.371/.442 line in over 460 minor league games. He is decent with the glove at first base and could find himself as part of the platoon at first base if Alvarez struggles or McGehee has another really down year.
2011 – 190.1 IP, 11-11, 5.15 ERA, 1.43 WHIP, 8.18 K/9, 3.92 BB/9, 1.5 WAR
Burnett was another guy that the Pirates were able to get in the offseason and although he is someone that has had a pretty terrible last two seasons I think he can be a bounce back guy who can give the Pirates a ton of innings when he comes back and give the Buccos someone in the rotation (along with Erik Bedard) who can strike a couple of hitters out. Burnett has been in the league since the 1999 seaosn when he broke in with the Marlins and have played for only three times before being shipped to the Pirates. To say the last two years for the Yankees have been horrible would be a vast understatement for Burnett. His ERA has been north of 5.00 in both years and while he has been known through his career to give up the home run ball last year he gave it up at a gaudy 17% of the fly balls he has given up. Burnett is a guy that can strike out some batters as he averaged over eight strikeouts per nine innings which is far above the strikeout per nine innings average of the Pirates staff from last year which was third from the bottom of the league only striking out 6.4 batters per nine. Burnett isn’t going to be able to bring it like he used to but still should hold a fastball that is around 92-93 on a consistent basis with a curveball that sits about 81 and a changeup that will sit in the mid to upper 80’s. Last season Burnett threw his fastball only 56% of the time which is much less than his career average of 66% and will rely on the curveball for his out pitch. What might be most important about the Burnett signing is that he is a guy that can get you around 180-200 innings a year. Last season the Pirates pitching staff broke down and couldn’t finish the year and that should be something you won’t have to worry about with Burnett. He has pitched over 180 innings each of the last four seasons so that will be a welcome sign to the staff.
2011 – 129.1 IP, 5-9, 3.62 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 8.70 K/9, 3.34 BB/9, 2.4 WAR
Bedard is another new face to the rotation and could turn out to be one of the better free agent signings for Neal Huntington if he can stay healthy. Staying healthy is the key phrase there. Bedard has been unable to stay on the mound due to injuries and the last time he was able to pitch over 150 innings was in the 2007 season when he threw 182 for Baltimore. Last season he managed only 129.1 innings which is much more than he managed in either 2009 (83) or 2008 (81) so it would seem to be illogical to think that Bedard could stay healthy for a full season for 160 or so innings but if he does the Pirates will be getting a top line starter. Just like Burnett, Bedard is a guy that can strike out a ton of guys with a career average of 8.76 K/9 and was just about that in 2011 with a 8.7 K/9 mark. Bedard doesn’t use a great fastball as it will max out around 90 but he can hit his spots and uses a slow curveball and a slightly fasters (only by a mile per hour or so) changeup. Bedard doesn’t fare better or worse against left handed and right handed batters as he is right around a .240 batting average against in both situations and strikes out almost 8.8 batters per nine innings in his career against each side. Again the pluses for Bedard are pretty easy to see. He can strike guys out and while he doesn’t throw particularly hard he is going to get outs without the ball being put in play. When you have a defense like the Pirates with no above average players on it you want to get as many outs as possible with the ball being put in play and like Burnett it will be nice to have a couple of guys that can actually do that. The downside is clearly the healthy but if he can stay healthy we can see an ultra productive starting pitcher than would make people forget about the loss of Paul Maholm.
2011 – 171.0 IP, 9-9, 4.21 ERA, 1.49 WHIP, 7.47 K/9, 4.11 BB/9, 0.4 WAR
McDonald is the ultimate wildcard for the Pirates this season. Last year he had a wildly horrific first four five starts before going on a streak and pitching some really good baseball the rest of the year. The big knock on McDonald last year was that he couldn’t get to the seventh inning and it was a pretty big problem. He only reached seven innings pitched twice in 31 starts so that is something that must improve. McDonald is another true strikeout pitcher as he averages 7.68 K/9 over his career but he also matches that with a pretty high walk rate as he gives up about four free passes a game over his career. That became the problem last year for McDonald. He would work ahead of hitters and then seemed to be a little too cute and find himself in full count situations which works the pitch count, forces more walks and gets you out of the game before seven innings pitched. Last season McDonald relied on his fastball as much as any other starting pitcher. Almost 70% of his pitches were fastballs last year and while he does have a pretty solid fastball that sits around 93-95 he must be able to command it better if he is going to be more successful this season. McDonald also gave up the home run a little more frequently than you would like at 11% but I would expect that if he can get his control in order that will come down, maybe not to his 4.3% of 2010 but it should be better. This is my breakout candidate among the pitchers because he truly does have the best stuff among anyone on the staff. The question is if he can harness what he has and put it all together. He was pretty durable last season getting 171 innings and I would expect that he gets around that if not more innings this year and we should see that if he can get through seven innings like the goal should be.
2011 – 162.1 IP, 9-9, 3.38 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 5.32 K/9, 1.83 BB/9, 1.0 WAR
I really have no idea about Jeff Karstens. For much of his career he has been anywhere from bad to pretty good and while the Pirates only used him as a spot starter he had to step into the rotation last year and took full advantage of it by just having a great year and posting a pretty nice 3.38 ERA in 26 starts. When I talked about pitchers who couldn’t strike anyone out I was really talking about Karstens as he averaged only 5.32 K/9 last season which is actually a step up from his 4.74 K/9 career average. While he doesn’t get a lot of strikeouts what he does do is get a ridiculous amount of ground balls and he doesn’t put runners on base for free. Karstens finished with the ninth lowest walks per nine innings (1.83) among qualified pitchers in all of baseball and that is why when he was getting hit around a little bit the damage wasn’t as bad as it could have been. Karstens possessed a pretty high HR/FB rate of 11.4% but when you consider that a vast number of those home runs were solo shots it doesn’t hurt as much. I want to say that you could count the number of multiple run home runs on one hand that Karstens gave up last season. When talking about Karstens as a pitch to contact guy you would expect that he be a ground ball pitcher but that is actually not the case. Last season his groundball rate was only 46.2% which is right about the middle of the pack among starting pitchers which is another reason why he might give up a few more home runs. While he gave up the home run a little bit and didn’t get a ton of ground balls his strand rate was pretty high at 77.4% which ranked him as one of the tops in that stat in all of baseball which is much higher than his career average of 69.7%. Karstens really doesn’t do any one thing great but he also isn’t horrible in any one thing which makes him a nice guy to have in the back end of the rotation even though he might have to pitch up a few spots. The additions of Bedard and Burnett should help as a mix of speeds between games will help and while I imagine his luck of only giving up solo home runs and strand rate will normalize a little bit I would expect him to be pretty solid in the rotation for another year.
2011 – 171.2 IP, 10-10, 3.83 ERA, 1.53 WHIP, 5.77 K/9, 4.04 BB/9, 2.2 WAR
Morton is just a fascinating part of the rotation, mostly because he was so terribly bad and made a total transformation before last season and really turned his fortunes around. Morton posted a 7.57 ERA in 2010 and came back around for a 3.83 ERA in 29 starts last season and really had a good season. While it was pretty good overall there still are some spots that he needs to improve on, namely facing left handed pitching. While he does need to improve on that, in a big way, that just gives him that much more room to improve and as good as he was last season he could be even better this year. Morton is the true definition of a ground ball pitcher and utilizes a very good sinker to induce an almost 59% ground ball rate which limits his HR/FB rate to a mere 5.8%. With being a guy that is going to pitch to contact you have something in Morton much like you do Karstens where he isn’t going to strike a lot of guys out as evident by his 5.77 K/9. The difference between Karstens and Morton really ends there as Morton has some control problems to the tune of a 4.04 BB/9 rate. That rivals McDonald as one of the worst in the entire league and that is one of the huge stats that Morton has to improve if he wants to get better. The other glaring problem for Morton is his effectiveness against left handed batters and it was pretty bad last year. While his sinker is very effective against right handed batters because it goes down and away it has the opposite effect against lefties as it will come in to their wheelhouse. Not a good situation. Against left handed batters last year he gave up a line of .364/.460/.500 while he walked 49 batters in only 338 plate appearances. Just brutal when you consider he posted a .220/.289/.278 line against right handed hitters. The OBP is as close to normal as you will get in that line due to the high walk rate but you can’t argue that a .274 slugging percentage against right handed hitters is more than you could ask for. Near the end of the season Ray Searage worked with Morton to throw his curveball more to left handed hitters and there was some improvement against left handed hitters in the latter half of the year which is encouraging. Morton also has a pretty good fastball that can get around 93-94 to use that I would expect him brining out against lefties more. Morton also had offseason surgery on his hip and will open the year on the 15 day DL but from what it looks like he will be more than fine to go after pitching pretty much every fifth day in spring training. All things being said if Morton can take similar stride in 2012 that he did in 2011 he is going to be even better.
I put Kevin Correia in this because he will most likely be the long many once Burnett comes off the DL and just because I really don’t think Correia is any good. Last year he was an All Star representative but for much of the second half of the season he was getting hit around pretty hard and injuries ate him up late. He will be the first guy to come in if a guy in the rotation has an injury so I guess you could have worse options but Correia is not someone I am too high on. Tony Watson will be the only lefty in the pen and will be called on to get some big outs this season just as he was last year when he saw his first major league time. He worked 41 innings and had 37 strikeouts but had a somewhat high 3.95 ERA for a reliever. Chris Resop will be back in the pen and Pirates fans are sure to use him as the whipping boy but he led the team with the best K/9 ratio of the team (10.21). He could likely be the eighth inning guy in the pen and should be reliable after 76 appearances last year. If you can’t tell I am a pretty big Resop fan. Jason Grilli was extremely solid with the Pirates last year after coming over from the Phillies and was right behind Resop with a 10.19 K/9. Even Meek is going to be the wild card in the pen as he had a really tough year in 2011 with injures and he is still trying to come back from that. He was a fireballer before the injuries and was an All-Star in 2010 but reports now is that Meek is only throwing in the low 90’s which makes him a dime a dozen in terms of relievers that are right handed. Juan Cruz has a really good track record and should help give some stability in the middle of the pen. In 2008 as part of the Diamondbacks he had a career high 57 appearances and a 2.61 ERA and wasn’t far off that last year with the Rays. In 56 appearances he posted a 3.88 ERA. Chris Leroux Jared Hughes will be interesting arms for the Pirates and should be good use for middle innings. Leroux doesn’t have any options left so he should make the team and can really throw hard off the mound but doesn’t really have many pitches to go off. Hanrahan will close things down for the Pirates after an unreal 2011 season. He can get up to 100 MPH off the mound and appeared in 70 games averaging 8.00 K/9 with a 1.83 ERA and was a two win player. In my opinion we might not see Hanrahan in a Pirates uniform the entire year as I believe they will flip him at the deadline for a package because if there is one thing we know it’s that teams love to overpay for closers which are one of the more overrated positions on the team.
Well there are your 2012 Pittsburgh Pirates. As I said before I think this team is better than the one that was on the field last year and it should be a fun season to watch them play. I think that the Pirates are going to win around the same number of games from last year but if they are more consistent from start to finish then this will have a different feel. The surge last year was good at the beginning but when they went down the hole they went hard. A consistent 74 wins is what I am going to be looking for this year and if they do that then I think this year is going to be a pretty good one.
Let me know what you think in the comments.