By far the biggest and most pleasant surprise of 2013, the Pittsburgh Pirates won not only the endearment of the city of Pittsburgh, but they won hearts and minds all over America with their long overdue breakout season. They finally were able to put together a team that lives up to the City of Champions moniker. Pittsburgh has always been a sports town and if you ask me, Pirate fans are just as wild, loud, passionate, and frenzied as any team in the league. Ask Johnny Cueto.
There’s been allot of anger and disappointment with the lack of activity on the free agent market, but despite an absolute toothless offseason, I’m here to tell you…it’ll be ok. We are compltely loaded from top to bottom. Don’t believe me? Follow me around the horn friends.
Starling Marte will be the starting Left Fielder. Marte is inevitably overshadowed by Andrew McCutchen and because of that he doesn’t get the credit that he deserves. But it’s time to have a season long martay partay people. You can reasonably argue that he was a top 8 Left Fielder last year and mark my words he’ll be considered a top 5 left fielder this coming year. And I’ll have this debate with anyone. Look at the numbers.
Marte hit .280 last year which puts him in the top 6 in the league in Batting Average for left fielders with players that have at least 300 at bats. He stole 41 bases. 2nd best in the majors. He was 5th in Runs Scored (83), 9th in OPS (784), and 8th in on base percentage (.343) And the most staggering number. His WAR. (Wins Above Replacement). was 5.5. No one is even close. To put it into perspective, Bryce Harper’s WAR was only 3.8. If he’s not an All-star this coming year, it’ll be a let-down. He’s that good.
Center field is an easy one. Reigning MVP Andrew McCutchen. Enough said. So think about it. We can easily have the best offensive Center Fielder in the league and a top 5 offensive left fielder. And let’s talk about defense. Those two alone can cover 75% of the outfield with ease. You need to hit the ball on an absolute rope to get it over their heads. And it’s nearly impossible to take two bases on anything except a gap shot or a hit right down the left field line. And even if you do hit it down the line. Marte has a cannon of an arm. You’re rolling the dice trying for two.
Right Field has been a point of contention with Pirate fans. No offseason miracles to speak of occurred and we lost Marlin Byrd. But there’s no way it will be as bad as last year. How could it be? Without Marlin Byrd’s two months factored in, Pirates Right Field production was near the bottom of the league in almost every offensive category, if not dead last. There is only one way to go and that’s up.
When Tabata is healthy he can be a productive player. Not many know this, but in the months of August and September last year, Tabata hit .312 with .500 slugging percentage. He was healthy. The trick is to stay that way. Maybe shed a few pounds Jose. Couldn’t hurt buddy. Travis Snyder got another year under his belt and even though he has no idea how to hit the ball to the opposite field and is terribly inconsistent, he did show some flashes of brilliance. Que the multiple walk off hits montage. Between the two of them and Polanco after the all-star break, we should end up with a middle of the road Right Field in comparison to the rest of the league. Hey…it’s better than last year.
NL Home Run Champ Pedro Alvarez should be even better this year both offensively and defensively. He is the power hitter that Pirate fans greedily salivate over while they stuff themselves full of hot dogs in the all you can eat seats. El Toro will push 40 home runs this year. In addition, expect him to be more patient at the plate and bring up his batting average. And man can he wing the ball across the infield. That kid got an arm.
Jordy Mercer will be an upgrade at Shortstop after platooning with Clint Barmes last year. Both offensively AND defensively. It never ceases to amaze me why I have to time and time again explain to people that Clint Barmes is not this mythical defensive gem everyone seems to believe he is. Without question, when I get into a discussion about the Pirate’s short stops, I will hear “well, Barmes is great on defense.” No….no he’s not. Statistically he was literally in the bottom ten in almost every metric that measures defensive performance. Range factor, errors per game played, fielding percentage, etc. Couple that with a Mendoza type bat and you have one of the worst all around statistical shortstops in the league. He’ll make Jordy Mercer look like Cal Ripken I assure you. UPGRADE.
Neil Walker fought through injuries constantly last year and at times seemed like he was actually TRYING to hit screaming line drives directly at the opposing second baseman’s glove. If there was a stat that measured atem balls, he’d have to be tops in the league. But despite his injuries and bad luck he still managed to finish top ten among shortstops in on base percentage (.339), OPS (.757), slugging percentage (.418), and home runs (16). He will be looking to improve on his batting average this year and be back to being an elite second baseman. He’ll have plenty of motivation to work out this offseason when he’s thinking about his incredible post season performance. He uhh…. He went 2 for 24. .083 batting average in the playoffs. That couldn’t have sat well with him. Expect a career year from Neil.
First base will be the thorn in the Pirate’s side all year long. Gaby Sanchez had a great season against lefty’s last year, but there’s no guarantee he can do it again. Andrew Lambo may get a shot, but his call up last year was disastrous. It basically looked like he was closing his eyes and swinging at every pitch that came within 5 feet of being a strike. It was hard to watch. Unless he gets his head right, it may be Travis Ishikawa and Gaby Sanchez. Expect this year’s first base to be the equivalent of last year’s right field. It doesn’t mean we can’t win with it… but it won’t be pretty.
Rounding out the field is Russel Martin. Sadly, this year will most likely be Martin’s last with the Pirates. He proved last year that he is still one of the best defensive catchers in the league. He was second in the majors in defensive WAR, third in caught stealing %, and tied for second in passed balls allowed. Not only that, but his ability to frame pitches and call games is clearly one of the reasons the Pirates pitching thrived in 2013. Martin also always had a knack to come up with the big hit when they needed it as well. Ask Johnny Cueto. He was one of Huntington’s best free agent signings to date.
So, things are looking bright for the Pirates. I know, I know.. we didn’t sign any quality free agents this offseason. Blah Blah. Blah. But really.. who cares. We have all-star caliber talent up and down the lineup and our farm system is loaded. If our starting pitchers step up and the shark tank stays hungry, it’s hard to imagine we won’t be down to the wire again with the Red Birds come next September. I for one am wringing my hands with child like anticipation for the season to start. And you know what? That’s a great feeling, no matter what anyone says.