Pittsburgh Pirates: Examining Current State of the NL Central

PITTSBURGH, PA - SEPTEMBER 23: Members of the Pittsburgh Pirates celebrate after the final out in a 2-1 win over the Chicago Cubs at PNC Park on September 23, 2020 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH, PA - SEPTEMBER 23: Members of the Pittsburgh Pirates celebrate after the final out in a 2-1 win over the Chicago Cubs at PNC Park on September 23, 2020 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images) /
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LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – OCTOBER 01: Christian Yelich #22 of the Milwaukee Brewers reacts to his strikeout during the sixth inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers in game two of the National League Wild Card Series at Dodger Stadium on October 01, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – OCTOBER 01: Christian Yelich #22 of the Milwaukee Brewers reacts to his strikeout during the sixth inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers in game two of the National League Wild Card Series at Dodger Stadium on October 01, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images) /

Milwaukee Brewers

The Milwaukee Brewers barely snuck into the playoffs with a 29-31 record due to their pitching staff, but mainly the bullpen. Josh Hader had a really solid season and the only blemish of his 2020 season was one game against the Pittsburgh Pirates where he issued five walks and allowed two earned runs in a third of an inning which inflated his 2020 numbers. National League Rookie of the Year Devin Williams was just flat out dominant, surrendering just one earned run in 27 innings of work and striking out 53% of the batters he faced. Brent Suter played a key role for the Crew pitching in 16 games, starting four, but being fantastic overall. Freddy Peralta played a similar role to Suter while giving the Brewers 29.1 solid innings of work. Eric Yardley and Alex Claudio also were reliable arms for the Brewers.

Brandon Woodruff has easily been one of the most underrated pitchers in the game the past few years and was an ace-caliber arm in 2020. Corbin Burnes had a breakout season as well and even received a few Cy Young votes. Brett Anderson also put up league average numbers and showed fantastic control. However, the rest of their rotation was a bit questionable. Although Josh Lindbloom had a strong FIP, his ERA was over 5.00. Adrian Houser flat out struggled with a 5.30 ERA and 4.82 FIP.

The Brewer line up is where the team struggled. The only threatening bat currently in the Brewers’ starting 9 is former NL MVP Christian Yelich and he had a down year in 2020. The Brewers had five players that collected at least 125 plate appearances and an OPS+ below 90 in 2020. They have a handful of holes in their line-up that they can’t simply just fill with free agents or with players in their minor league system.

Speaking of their farm system, it’s one of, if not the worst in baseball. Their only top 100 prospect is Brice Turang who ranks at exactly #100 on FanGraphs. On MLB Pipeline, their only top prospect is 2020 first-round pick Garrett Mitchell. They only have six prospects with a future value grade of 45 or better. In comparison, the Pittsburgh Pirates have six top 100 prospects according to FanGraphs. They currently rank 25th on FanGraphs’ system rankings and 29th on MLB Pipeline’s rankings.

They do have a handful bounceback candidates though. Avisail Garcia and Keston Hiura had solid 2019 seasons and Luis Urias was once ranked as one of the best prospects in baseball. Omar Narvaez was a solid batter in 2018 and 2019. Lorenzo Cain sat out most of the 2020 season due to COVID-19 concerns, but should return to the team in 2021.

The Brewers will have a lot of questions going into 2021 and it could be a big deciding year for the team. If they struggle again, they might decide to go through a rebuild considering their barren farm system but handful of proven players with team friendly control remaining that would bring back significant prospect packages. However, they do have the core that if they wanted to, could go back out and try for it again.