Pittsburgh Pirates: Looking At Team’s Arbitration Eligible Players

Sep 19, 2020; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates first baseman Colin Moran (19) hits an RBI single against the St. Louis Cardinals during the sixth inning at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 19, 2020; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates first baseman Colin Moran (19) hits an RBI single against the St. Louis Cardinals during the sixth inning at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports /

Entering the offseason the Pittsburgh Pirates will have a large number of arbitration eligible players. Today, we breakdown and examine that list.

The Pittsburgh Pirates are coming off a season where they went 19-41 and despite finishing last in not just the National League Central and MLB, the 2020 season was actually a really productive season as they saw the arrival of Ke’Bryan Hayes, a few players breakout, and locked down the #1 pick in next year’s draft. However, as we enter the off season, the Pittsburgh Pirates will need to make a decision on fifteen players in arbitration.

Out of all their players, the ones that are likely going to get the biggest raises are Colin Moran and Steven Brault. The former was one of the pieces in the Gerrit Cole trade. Moran hit just .277/.331/.419 with 24 home runs with a 98 wRC+ in his first two years as a Pirate.

Moran primarily played third base, where he was considered one of the worst defenders in baseball regardless of position. However Moran put on a good display of power in 2020. In 200 plate appearances, Moran hit .247/.325/.472 with 10 long balls and a 114 wRC+. Not only was Moran hitting for more power, but he also was walking more, seeing his walk rate rise from 7.1% in ‘18-’19 to 9.5% in 2020.

A lot of Moran’s success can be attributed to his dramatic rise in exit velocity. He only averaged 88.2 MPH off the bat in his first two years, but then put up a 91.9 MPH mark this past season. This placed him in the top 89th percentile of all batters in 2020. He was also making hard contact more frequently with a 47.2% hard hit rate and in the top 86th percentile.

Moran mainly split his time at designated hitter and first base, and saw very few innings at third. With the emergence of Hayes and a handful of other utility men who can play the position more efficiently, Moran has probably seen his last days defending the hot corner. After all, it was a position where he had -32 DRS and -12.2 UZR/150 in 2018-2019.

Brault’s 2020 success might also get him a raise. Brault mainly filled in as a swing man between 2016 and 2019 and never really found too much success. Last year, the lefty flashed some potential, going on an 86.1 inning run where he had a 3.54 ERA and 4.13 FIP, but he was partly impeded by an injury that kept him out most of July, and really struggled in his first few appearances and last few appearances of 2019.

This past year, in 42.2 innings, Brault had a 3.38 ERA, 3.92 FIP and 1.19 WHIP for the Pittsburgh Pirates. He only really had one bad outing in 2020 where he gave up four runs to the Detroit Tigers without recording an out, but aside from that, he kept opponents scoreless in five of his appearances this year, and tossed a complete game, one run effort against the St. Louis Cardinals.

However, the lefty still struggled with walks with a 12.4% walk rate and a sub-par 21.3% strikeout rate. Home runs on the other hand weren’t an issue. His 0.4 HR/9 is over half of what it was in ‘16-’19. While Moran saw a huge increase in exit velocity and hard hit rate, Brault limited opponents to an exit velo of just 85.8 MPH, or in the top 89th percentile. His hard hit rate ranked in the top 76th percentile of MLB pitchers at 32.7%.

Jacob Stallings will also probably receive a raise. After mainly serving as the Bucs’ third catcher, Stallings got the chance for semi-regular playing time in 2019. He put on a display of defensive excellence and took home the starting job for the 2020 Pittsburgh Pirates.

For a catcher, his offense wasn’t all that bad. He hit for a respectable .248/.326/.376 line in 143 plate appearances, walking 10.5% of the time and posting a 93 wRC+. However, it’s his defense that gets him a starting spot on the Pittsburgh Pirates. Stallings put up +7 DRS, the second most in baseball, with 2.3 framing runs above average. Across 800 innings, that’s +16 DRS and 5.3 framing runs above average. All told he had a 1.1 fWAR. If you expand that across 500 plate appearances, Stallings finishes with an fWAR just below 4.

Joe Musgrove will be an interesting case. He did see his ERA, FIP, xFIP, and SIERA move in the right directions, as well as his strikeout rate, but this was across just an injury limited 39.2 innings and his walk rate nearly doubled from 2019. MLB Trade Rumors projects him to make somewhere between $3-$3.5 million.

Other names like Josh Bell, Jameson Taillon, Richard Rodriguez, Adam Frazier, Chad Kuhl and Chris Stratton are essentially guaranteed locks to be tendered. However, some of the Bucs’ arb-eligible players are also non-tender candidates. The most prominent of which is likely starter Trevor Williams.

Williams is now two years removed from the 2018 season where he had a 3.11 ERA, 3.86 FIP and 1.17 WHIP in 170.2 innings. However,even at the time, Williams was seen as a huge regression candidate. He put up a 4.54 xFIP and 4.68 SIERA. The past two years haven’t been kind to the right hander. Hlis last 201 innings have yielded a 5.06 ERA, 5.45 FIP and 1.45 WHIP. Though he does have a solid 7.3% walk rate in this time, he also has a sub-20% strikeout rate and HR/9 of 1.9. xFIP and SIERA also put him in the 5’s at 5.17 and 5.01.

Even if the Pittsburgh Pirates are interested in bringing Williams back, he’s projected to make just as much as Musgrove, making him a prime non-tneder candidate.

Erik Gonzalez is definitely going to be an interesting case. His arrival in Pittsburgh has been mixed. Gonzalez finished off 2019 on a high note, hitting .322/.349/.407 with a .324 wOBA and 99 wRC+ in his final 63 plate appearances of the season. This year, he had a 112 plate appearance stretch where he hit .305/.333/.505 line and 120 wRC+. However, aside from these two stretches, Gonzalez has been a pretty light hitter.

Gonzalez is mainly used for his defense. He has a +3 DRS, 2.1 range runs above average and 1.7 UZR/150 at shortstop and +6 DRS, 0.5 range runs above average and a 4.2 UZR/150 at the hot corner. He’s only projected to make around $1.6 million in arbitration. Although that isn’t much, it might take away some plate appearances from a guy like Cole Tucker who should be getting more playing time in the major leagues.

Gonzalez and Williams are far from the only non-tender candidates. Jose Osuna, Michael Feliz and Kyle Crick might also be on the mend. The Pittsburgh Pirates could always avoid arbitration with any of these players if they are able to agree on a price before the arbitration date. This year, the deadline to tender arb-eligible players is December 2nd.

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Regardless, the Pittsburgh Pirates have a handful of decisions to make. While they do have a handful of locks who are going to receive contracts, either through arbitration or before to avoid the process, they also will have analyze a handful of players who are on the mend to be non-tendered.