Pittsburgh Pirates: Final Thoughts on the 2020 Trade Deadline
By Noah Wright
The Pittsburgh Pirates were silent at this year’s trade deadline, and I want to give my final thoughts on their decision to stay put despite having pieces to sell.
The Pittsburgh Pirates were pretty much completely silent at the trade deadline. They did not make a single trade the day of the deadline, which is pretty surprising as they looked like one of the only sellers in the National League. But alas, here we are days after the deadline with the roster still intact.
Here are my final thoughts on the Pittsburgh Pirates decision to stand pat at this year’s deadline.
First off, Derek Holland should no longer be a Pittsburgh Pirate. That’s not to rag on him, but just that as a rental on a team on pace to have the #1 overall pick in the 2021 MLB Draft, Holland getting traded will help the Pittsburgh Pirates tenfold compared to keeping him for the rest of the year, even if that was getting a fraction of the international bonus pool money Jarrod Dyson got back when the Pirates sent him to the Chicago White Sox ($243K).
Holland entered the trade deadline with a 7.62 ERA, 7.23 FIP and 1.52 WHIP across 28.1 innings of work. He’s really struggled with the long ball, surrendering 10 for a 3.2 HR/9 (however, I should note, four of those are from one single inning against the Tigers). Though he does have a solid 24.6%, he has a bit of a high 10.3% walk rate. His ERA estimators aren’t awful, but not good, with a 5.00 xFIP and 4.53 SIERA.
Now, sure, he was struggling, but another left-handed starting pitcher who was struggling was Robbie Ray, to an even further extent. On the surface, he was nearly identical to Holland with a 7.84 ERA, 7.26 FIP and 2.00 WHIP. But Ray gave up way more walks at nearly double the rate (20.1%), with a very weak 2.61 HR/9 rate. He did strike out more batters on average with a 27.9% rate, but that’s really the only thing he did significantly better than Holland. Ray had a 6.37 xFIP (1.37 higher than Holland) and had a 5.82 SIERA (1.29 higher than Holland). He also was on the last year of his deal, so when the Toronto Blue Jays traded for Ray, they were only getting guaranteed control through September, like if they were to trade for Holland.
The two pitchers who drew some attention nearing the deadline were Trevor Williams and Chad Kuhl. Williams had a 5.34 ERA, and 5.30 FIP through 30.1 innings of work. His numbers were a bit inflated by his most recent start heading into the deadline as from through his first 24.1 innings, he had a 3.70 ERA, 4.29 FIP, 1.1 HR/9, 21.7% strikeout rate, and solid 7.5% walk rate.
Kuhl’s return from Tommy John surgery has so far produced mixed results. Though he entered the deadline with a 2.52 ERA and 1.00 WHIP, he had a 5.45 FIP. This is because he had a 1.8 HR/9, with mediocre strikeout (20.6%) and walk (11.3%) percentages. However, his ground ball rate sat at a solid 40%, and was posting his best exit velocity of his career (88.6 MPH) Both Kuhl and Williams had two years of control left.
Joe Musgrove was almost dealt, but things fell apart in a trade that would have sent him to the Blue Jays. Though Musgrove has struggled this year, he is on the injured list, and was one of the more underrated pitchers the past two seasons. In 2018 and 2019, Musgrove had a 4.28 ERA, but strong 3.72 FIP, 5.1% walk rate, 1.00 HR/9, and posted a deserved run average (DRA) below 4 in both seasons. With a better defense, Musgrove could be a solid number three starter, as across those two years, the Pirates rank 6th to last in defensive runs saved (DRS), and third to last in ultimate zone rating (UZR).
Adam Frazier is another player that some probably would have thought would have been moved. Now yes, Frazier has struggled this year, batting just .208/.264/.325 with a 60 OPS+/wRC+ and .260 wOBA. But he’s been pretty consistent since his rookie season. From 2016 up through 2019, Frazier had a .279/.342/.420 line with a 103 OPS+/wRC+ and in all four of those seasons, he never really deviated far from that.
Frazier’s value is mostly in his glove and ability to play above average defense at multiple positions. He was a second base Gold Glove finalist last year with -1 DRS, +2.9 UZR and +1.6 range runs above average. This year, he has a +3 DRS, +1.5 UZR and 0.5 range runs above average at the keystone. Throughout his career, Frazier +7 DRS and +2.1 range runs above average in the outfield as well. However, a league average bat with above average defense at second base and can play some corner outfield isn’t something the Pittsburgh Pirates don’t have. With so much middle infield depth, Frazier has been on the trading block for a while now, but hasn’t been moved.
Now, have all these players been struggling this year for the Pittsburgh Pirates? Yes, but to say that there wasn’t interest in any of them because they weren’t having great starts to the season is far from the truth. In the last three days, Ray, Andrew Chafin, Ross Stripling, Jason Castro, Taylor Williams, Jose Martinez, Cameron Maybin, Archie Bradley, Mike Minor, Jonathan Villar, Robinson Chirinos, Todd Frazier, Jarrod Dyson, and Cody Reed all have been traded. All these players are between -0.6 and +0.2 bWAR. There was far from a shortage of struggling veterans that were traded this deadline, and many of which are comparable to some of the Pittsburgh Pirates players.
For example, Jonathan Villar is currently batting .259/.315/.345 with an 82 OPS+ and 87 wRC+. While he is having a better offensive season than Frazier, he is in comparison, having a much worse defensive season with 0 DRS, +1 UZR and 0.2 range runs above average. Both him and Frazier have a -0.1 bWAR.
Now, obviously, the situation is different as Villar is a rental and Frazier isn’t. But the point is that similar players to the Pirates’ trade pieces were dealt. It would be absurd to think that just because these players have struggled through roughly 30 games, they were given little to no interest despite having control remaining past 2020, and have done well in the past.
While I really hoped Ben Cherington would have traded Holland for anything, the return wasn’t going to be groundbreaking anyways, but it would have been nice to get something, anything for him. I’m not upset at him either for not trading any of the pieces the Pittsburgh Pirates have control over like Musgrove, Kuhl, Williams, and Frazier.
Cherington has a keen eye for talent. He was Bostons’ head of player development when they acquired David Ortiz and Bronson Arroyo, drafted Jon Lester, Kevin Youklis, Jonathan Papelbon, Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, Clay Buchholz, and oversaw most of them blossom into highly productive major leaguers. He was the Sox general manager when they drafted Mookie Betts, Michael Kopech, Andrew Benintendi, and signed Xander Bogarets, Yoan Moncada and Rafael Devers.
He was the Blue Jays vice-president of baseball operations when they drafted Nate Pearson, signed Lourdes Gurriel Jr., acquired a haul for Marcus Stroman, and was there for most of Vlad Guerrero Jr’s., Cavan Biggio’s, Bo Bichette’s development into regular major leaguers. He wasn’t going to make a move just to make a move, especially with players that had control remaining past this year. Clearly, no team offered anything that peaked Cherington’s interest, which I’d rather him do than to blow it up by accepting the first offer that comes through his door.