On Friday night some minor news broke for the Pittsburgh Pirates as the Miami Marlins announced that they had hired Jim Benedict as their vice president of pitching. Benedict had previously served as special assistant to Neal Huntington since 2011, and had been with the Pirates’ organization since 2010. With Jeff Banister leaving to become the Texas Rangers’ manager last offseason, and Rick Sofield being a managerial candidate for the San Diego Padres’ vacancy, it’s clear that the success of the Pirates and their staff is not going unnoticed.
The loss of Banister hurt, but it was an inevitability after the Pirates passed on him for their own managerial opening back in 2010. The loss of Sofield probably wouldn’t hurt too much. But the loss of Benedict? The impact of that can’t be understated. Benedict was part of the two-headed pitching coach monster that was wildly successful. Operating in conjunction Ray Searage, Benedict helped develop a true ace in Gerrit Cole, revitalize the careers of A.J. Burnett, Francisco Liriano, Edinson Volquez, and numerous others, and turn a franchise that has never been known for its pitching into one that has had one of the best starting staffs and bullpens in all of baseball. While Searage gets most of the credit for this success (which he deserves due to his role as the pitching coach), Benedict deserves some of this credit as well. His role often went unnoticed, and we’re about to find out how much of an impact he truly had on this team.
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Benedict’s role extended beyond just the pitching staff. He also was involved with player development, scouting, and the like. But his impact was seen the most with the pitching staff. In 2010, the Pirates had the worst ERA in the National League at a robust 5.00. In 2011, it improved almost a full point to 4.04. Every year since then, the team ERA has been under 4.00, dropping to a low of 3.21 this past season. It’s true that baseball as a whole is becoming more of a pitching league, but it’s still impressive what Benedict and Searage have been able to do.
In terms of scouting, we’ve seen the Pirates extend their international presence in recent years, including the signings of Jung Ho Kang, Starling Marte, Gregory Polanco, and others. We’ve seen the Pirates’ farm system rise to become one of the best in all of baseball. According to Baseball America, the Pirates’ farm system went from 15th in 2010 and 19th in 2011 to 11th in 2012, seventh in 2013 and first overall in 2014. This past season, they dropped to seventh, but still managed to remain in the top 10. The organization has used its adept scouting ability to draft Andrew McCutchen, Neil Walker, Pedro Alvarez, Gerrit Cole, Jordy Mercer, Tony Watson, and others. They’ve made shrewd trades to acquire Charlie Morton, Jeff Locke, Francisco Cervelli, Josh Harrison, Mark Melancon, and plenty more. Benedict doesn’t get as much credit in these areas, and who knows how much of a direct impact he had in the drafting and signing of players. But his role as an assistant to Huntington and in the scouting department didn’t go unnoticed.
In the end, Benedict will be remembered for what he brought to the pitching staff. Next season, the Pirates will have their work cut out for them. Gerrit Cole and Francisco Liriano will continue to anchor the starting rotation, but A.J. Burnett is gone, and Charlie Morton and Jeff Locke are major question marks at the back-end. And who knows if Mark Melancon will get traded or not, and who would replace him as the closer if he did. Will future reclamation projects continue to be as successful as they have been? The impact of the loss of Jim Benedict will be seen this upcoming season, and who knows how big or small it will be.
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