The concerns of Pittsburgh Pirates fans for 2015
Recently I put on my white lab coat and decided to visit Rum Bunter’s very-scientific Research lab. My goal was simple: Find out what is the biggest concern for Pittsburgh Pirates fans as 2015 approaches. My research would be disciplined, meticulous, and groundbreaking, using high-tech equipment and methods.
That is to say, I just put out the question on social media and wade through the responses.
The question I posed was very simple: “What’s your biggest concern for the 2015 Bucs?” The answers ranged from hilarious (“Who is going to get Clint Hurdle his bubble gum now that Clint Barmes is gone?”) to apocalyptic (“A season ending injury to Cutch”) and then back again to hilarious (“Will Gaby Sanchez go by ‘Godzilla’ with his new team?). Along the way, a few answers started to trend. I’ve gathered them here for a quick discussion. Let’s get started!
"“Road play and wins”"
The elephant in the room when it comes to the 2014 Pittsburgh Pirates was their perceived ineptitude on the road. Their final record away from PNC Park last year was 37-44. Not desirable by any means, but look deeper there are a few factors here. The first is the atrocious 10-16 start to the season. 7 of those losses came on the road to division opponents. The bad start came from a variety of reasons: shaky bullpen, cold bats, mediocre starting pitching, but these got the Pirates off to a bad start on the road. Looking a little deeper, 10 of these road losses were of the walk-off variety. The translation here being: a stronger start and a bullpen that comes together more quickly should give the Pirates a decent road record at the end of the year.
"“They need at least 1 maybe 2 more power hitters”"
I couldn’t disagree more with this concern. My feeling here is that, in the post-steroids era we find ourselves in where home runs aren’t as bountiful as years past, the Pirates ranked third in the NL in HR, .AVG, and to the point, Slugging percentage. Career years from Neil Walker and Starling Marte will bump that number up, sure, but if it’s power you want, how about Andrew McCutchen getting back to 20-25 HR, Marte and Gregory Polanco maturing, Walker replicating his 2014 numbers, and Pedro keeping his head on straight enough to give you 25? Look, the Pirates offense came a long way in 2014, and this isn’t 1997 anymore. In today’s baseball, and with the type of players littering the Bucs’ every day lineup, the Pirates do not need any more power hitters.
Speaking of Pedro….
"“Pedro’s mental state and commitment”"
Another elephant in the room. The saga of Pedro Alvarez has been well documented. Every time I talk about this topic with Pirate fans, I find myself wondering why Pedro would not want to play first. In my opinion, if my management saw the follies I had at third and decided to make a position for me so that I would get on the field every day, I would be eternally grateful. While the little bit of information that trickle out here and there in various outlets make it seem like Pedro is sulking over the move, we as fans can only hope that he hits spring training with the right mindset. I wish I had a better, more informed answer for this concern as I hear it a lot. For now, I know one thing and one thing only: a hot bat coming out of spring training would go a long way towards solidifying Pedro’s mental state.
"“What is Jeff Locke‘s role on the team going to be in 2015?”"
I decided in this article that I would rather have Vance Worley as my no. 5 starter going into the season, contingent on Charlie Morton’s health. If Charlie isn’t ready to go for opening day as he says he is, then Locke’s role to start 2015 is going to be extremely vital. He will be counted on to take the ball every 5th day to start the year and hopefully propel the Bucs to a good start. After that, his waters become murkier. I really don’t feel it would be in the Pirates’ best interest to keep him in for long relief purposes. I would send him to Indianapolis to get the work in that he needs as a starter. Having not made any relief appearances in the past two years, it would be dicey to ask him to change his role at this point in his development when everyone knows that it would only be temporary. There is the A.J. Burnett factor, but that in itself isn’t a reason to keep Locke on the 25-man when every other starter is healthy. I do think he should and will be the first call up for spot starts and injuries over Brandon Cumpton.
Going into 2015, I definitely see a lot more glasses half-full than half-empty for Bucco fans. It seems like every concern fans bring up, the answers are right there in theory at least.
What type of scientific researcher would I be if I did not give my own formulated opinion, or my own concern to add to this experiment? Well, my biggest concern is this: The Pirates divisional record.
Last year’s record for the Pirates against divisional teams was horrific. The ONLY team that the Pirates had a winning record against was the Cubs (14-5). Records against STL (8-11), MIL (7-12), and CIN (7-12) were all equally bad. Milwaukee is somewhat understandable due to the hot start they got off to, but for the Pirates to actually challenge for the division crown in 2015, those numbers against these teams have to show improvement. The Cubs will be better. St Louis arguably has improved as well. The Reds and Brewers should remain status quo, hence the need to make hay where we can in the NL Central. Helping the Bucs will be a more balanced schedule in 2015. In 2014, every single one of the games in the first month of the season were against division foes. This year, it breaks up a bit with series against the Tigers and D-Backs sprinkled in through April. This may allow the Pirates to weather the storm if another bad start is in the cards.
Have a concern that I haven’t listed here that is weighing heavily on your mind? Let us know in the comments or on social media!