April is over for the Pittsburgh Pirates, and the team isn’t off to a great start in May. There are already some trends emerging that could continue for the rest of the season. It goes without saying that it is still early, and many players will rebound, some will falter, and the team will go on many hot and cold streaks. What are some of these trends that have emerged so far?
This starting staff is for real
Pirates’ pitchers have the second best ERA in all of baseball (all stats are before Tuesday night’s game against the Cincinnati Reds), and much of that is due to the performances of Gerrit Cole, Francisco Liriano, and A.J. Burnett. The team’s pitching also ranks fifth in baseball in strikeouts, ninth in batting average against, and seventh in quality starts. Cole, Liriano, and Burnett all have ERAs under two, WHIPs under 1.20, and average at least 7.50 strikeouts per nine innings. All three have proven to be successful in Pittsburgh in the past, and I can only see Burnett as having the possibility of completely falling off, considering his age and the injury problems he had last season. But I truly expect all three to be important pieces to the team’s success this year.
Vance Worley and Jeff Locke both have ERAs under 5.00, which isn’t terrible for the back end of a rotation. Worley has improved since his poor start to the season, and Charlie Morton and Casey Sadler are waiting in the wings if either Worley or Locke should falter. The starting pitching depth that the Pirates’ organization continues to show year in and year out should be a strength of this team once again moving forward.
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Andrew McCutchen isn’t the same
Andrew McCutchen is coming off the worst April of his career. He doesn’t always get off to poor starts, but he has at times during his career. Not only has he been a poor offensive player (.193/.291/.307), but he’s looked off defensively as well. He’s made a few nice plays in the field, yes, but he seems slower getting to balls. McCutchen’s defense has fallen off statistically the last few seasons (as Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review points out in a recent article), and a lingering knee injury certainly isn’t helping his movement and speed. Maybe a stint on the disabled list would do him good, or maybe we just won’t see the same player this season that we’ve seen in the past. Is it worth it for McCutchen to have surgery and be out for a few months? Or is it more important to keep him in the lineup for as long as possible? At the end of last year, McCutchen played through pain, and he did so well. In any case, he hasn’t looked like the same player to start this season.
The offense is plain bad right now
In more ways than one, the Pirates’ offense has been detrimental to the team more than it has been beneficial to it so far this year. No starter is batting over .300, and three players (McCutchen, Josh Harrison, and Jordy Mercer) are all batting under .200. That’s not acceptable for major league players, let alone starters on a hopeful playoff contender. The team is getting no production from the middle of the order, as many of the team’s home runs are solo shots and the players at the top of the order aren’t getting on base. This is, in part, due to the lack of walks taken and the vast number of strikeouts seen throughout the order. Only McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez have better than a 2:1 strikeout to walk ratio, and many have a much worse ratio (Gregory Polanco‘s is 5:1, Neil Walker‘s is higher than 3:1, Starling Marte‘s is upwards of 7:1, Harrison’s is 9:1, and Francisco Cervelli‘s is greater than 5:1).
In order for the team to start scoring more runs, the fundamentals have to be in order. The top of the order needs to walk more, and strikeouts have to be cut down. This alone will generate more offense, and hopefully the hits will soon follow.
These trends may fade away, but they don’t look to be going anywhere anytime soon. If the Pittsburgh Pirates want to contend for even a Wild Card spot, the starting staff may have to carry the offense for a while longer.