First Pitch: What Are the Pirates’ Needs This Off-Season?

By the end of the month, we’ll be getting a good idea of who will be available as free agents, and who might make sense for the Pittsburgh Pirates. We don’t have to wait until then to see the off-season needs for this team. I’ve been prepping for the off-season this week, looking at the projected payroll, projected 25-man roster, and some of the biggest team needs. Here is a rundown of the biggest needs that would require outside help this off-season.


I feel like I don’t need to explain the Russell Martin situation here. The simple summary is that the Pirates need Martin back, but he’s going to be in high demand, which means they might not get him back even if they make a big offer (which they should).

So what happens if Martin doesn’t come back? Free agency offers nothing. The Pirates have Tony Sanchez and Chris Stewart, although that’s hardly an ideal combo behind the plate. Both have seen their defense struggle lately, while the offense has been good. Either player would be fine as a backup, but you wouldn’t want one of them starting.

The alternative here could be a trade. However, catchers tend to be in high demand, and teams always want depth at the position, so a trade might be just as difficult as bringing Martin back.

As for other internal options, Elias Diaz had a big breakout season in Altoona this year, and is currently in the Arizona Fall League. He’s got better defense than Sanchez, and the second best catcher defense in the minors behind Reese McGuire. Still, it’s too early to consider him a starting option, since he doesn’t have much time in Triple-A, and needs to show that his offense is legit. That means the options are bringing back Martin, going with one of Sanchez/Stewart, or making a trade. I think the best bet here is outside help.

Starting Pitching

At the moment, the only pitchers I trust for Opening Day are Gerrit Cole and Vance Worley. I’d add Charlie Morton to the list as a 2015 option, although he might miss the start of the season. Jeff Locke has shown flashes of strong pitching, but has collapsed in the second half in each of the last two years, due to poor control. Brandon Cumpton had a chance to take a long-term job this year, but couldn’t capitalize on it. Locke and Cumpton are good depth options out of Triple-A, and fine as injury replacements for Morton, but neither pitcher should be given a rotation spot heading into the off-season.

The Pirates will need to bring in two starting pitchers. Bringing back Edinson Volquez wouldn’t be the worst idea, since he can eat innings and put up league average numbers or better. I think they should also go with another reclamation project, or two if Volquez doesn’t return.

I don’t think the Pirates need to make many long-term deals. They have a group of pitching prospects in the upper levels, ready to make the jump to the majors. Jameson Taillon, Nick Kingham, and Adrian Sampson could all be up by mid-season 2015, and Tyler Glasnow will be right behind them, projected for mid-season 2016.

Locke and Cumpton will provide the early season depth. Taillon, Kingham, and Sampson will give the Pirates some mid-season depth, if needed. But they’ll need two more starting pitchers from the outside.


The Pirates had some struggles this year, but actually finished the season with a quality bullpen. They’ve got Mark Melancon and Tony Watson holding down the late inning spots. Jared Hughes provided good middle relief. I’m guessing Justin Wilson will have a spot, and hopefully will pitch more like he did in the final month of the season. John Holdzkom should also have the inside track for a job. That leaves 1-2 spots open.

Neal Huntington said during Spring Training this year that the Pirates had trouble attracting relievers due to the depth in their bullpen. They probably won’t have the same problem this year. The Pirates don’t need to add a lot of relievers, but adding one sleeper for the seventh inning, and then adding the usual depth options wouldn’t be a bad idea.

Infield Bench

The emergence of Josh Harrison creates a need for infield bench players. The Pirates might be best going with a familiar face and bringing back Clint Barmes for another year. Barmes hasn’t exactly been appreciated by Pirates fans, but I feel like that changed this year when he was injured and the Pirates had to go with the likes of Michael Martinez, Jayson Nix, and Brent Morel for most of the month of August. I get the feeling that people used to view Barmes in the same way that Martinez, Nix, and Morel are viewed, at least until we saw how bad things could actually be with those guys, and what Barmes brings to the table.

The Pirates might need one more backup infielder, depending on how their first base situation plays out. They could probably go the minor league free agent route here. They could also turn to one of their many waiver claims, like Dean Anna or Tommy Field.

Links and Notes

**Highlights From Tuesday’s Action in the Instructional League

Tim started Pirates Prospects in 2009 from his home in Virginia, which was 40 minutes from where Pedro Alvarez made his pro debut in Lynchburg. That year, the Lynchburg Hillcats won the Carolina League championship, and Pirates Prospects was born from Tim's reporting along the way. The site has grown over the years to include many more writers, and Tim has gone on to become a credentialed MLB reporter, producing Pirates Prospects each year, and will publish his 11th Prospect Guide this offseason. He has also served as the Pittsburgh Pirates correspondent for Baseball America since 2019. Behind the scenes, Tim is an avid music lover, and most of the money he gets paid to run this site goes to vinyl records.

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Isn’t Stallings a better defensive catcher than McGuire?


why not Gift?


He can’t hit. His OPS in AA would be too low in MLB.


Hi tim. What are your thoughts on conger via trade? Meah is a legitimate response 🙂 I read on fangraphs that his pitch framing is elite.. he’s currently a backup catcher.. Just seems he’s a descent trade target


He might be a good option till Diaz, then McGuire, get there. Diaz was by far the best catching prospect I have seen come through the system in all the years the Curve have been in operation.


thanks leo.. i love having mcguire in our system.. i think perhaps i’m underestimating diaz until recently.. if it wasn’t for this sight i think the only players i would know were the high draft picks… lol.. if both players were at the same point in their development, would they be similar prospects? much appreciated

Arik Florimonte

I think you need to add a 1B who can hit LHP to the list. Whether that is a Travis Snider conversion project, or someone from outside the org, it clearly isn’t Sanchez, Davis, or Alvarez.


Not sure why no one has mentioned this in all this offseason talk but it’s clear the Pirates are going to have to be very very creative in making this a World Series contender for next year and here is my suggestion if Martin AND Liriano both sign elsewhere and we have 2 more first round picks………If that is the case I think you have to sign one big name pitcher (short term contract) and trade for another……..and here is how you do it, to free up money you trade Walker where is value at an all time high and pair him with a prospect or two to get your big name pitcher on the trade market (hopefully he is cost controlled and cost friendly), you release or trade Sanchez, Davis, Snider. I think in my scenario it makes it a no brainer to have plenty of money to sign Martin but you never know what will happen. Lastly, whether its for another pitcher or securing Martin, you have to start trading some of these prospects, we are absolutely loaded and this seems like the last way to create value in making your team a contender that isn’t so overlooked anymore. Let’s say worst case scenario we give up 5 of our top 25 prospects, wouldn’t you say our system is still loaded? You gotta take some chances and this is the year and next are the years to take them while we are still waiting on some big guns in the system to arrive with the rest of our studs (Glasnow, Taillon, Kingham, Bell). My opening day lineup and rotation for next year would be………….
3b- Harrison
RF- Polanco
CF- McCutchen
1B- Alvarez
LF- Marte
C- Martin
SS- Mercer
2b- Hanson

Rotation (Plenty of help coming throughout season and depth options: Kingham, Cumpton, Taillon, Sadler)
Cashner or Kennedy (from SD)

S Brooks

That was a really long way of saying “let’s trade Walker to San Diego for Cashner or Kennedy.”

I see two problems with this scenario:

1. You’re inserting Alen Hanson into the opening day lineup when he hasn’t played an inning above AA and he clearly has some things to work on (defense, maturity).

2. Kennedy will make ~$10M in arbitration, so he’s not cheap, and he’s a free agent after the season. Cashner has made 4 trips to the DL the last 4 years with arm/shoulder issues, and that doesn’t count the thumb surgery he had in the ’12-’13 offseason or being shut down at the end of 2012 with shoulder fatigue. In other words, YIKES.


Being very very creative doesn’t mean there is a perfect scenario……….and it was a really long way of saying we need to make a trade whether its walker or prospects since we need pitching. My rebuddle just for fun would be that……….

1. Who is to say Alen Hanson with his amazing athletic ability and hit tool won’t do just great in MLB? Everyone has said he will have no problem hitting, stealing bases, getting on base in the bigs…………and by no means is this a perfect scenario to have him at 2B, but with our lineup being very very very good, i think you could conceivably take the rist

2. Cashner has been excellent the last year and a half, but it doesn’t seem like you are a risk taker so thats fine. Also, Kennedy making 10 million for one year is pretty darn cheap and it wouldn’t take some astronomical deal so you could keep Walker if you wanted to and only deal a couple of prospects (maybe something like Davis, Heredia & Lambo)


$ 10 mil for Kennedy doesn’t look bad when you see where Masterson may ask for $ 12 mil. After a season where he has lost over 2.5 mph off his fastball average mph.


Amen people need to get off this Masterson train, and as a player I actually did have all the tools but definitely wasted my talent, not quite sure I was an 80 in all 5 but definitely plus in every category……….as for commenting thats another story but bottomline is I’m just throwing ideas out there not concrete things……….just trying to show they we NEED to and CAN get very creative this offseason… a way, its a really good problem to have


Heh…I certainly do not know who you might be, but if you came through AA in the EL, I would be familiar with you. I agree with you 100 % about Masterson. As for McCarthy, he would be a decent piece, but I think that ship has sailed as the Yankees were pretty well pleased with his performance and seem to want to get him under contract. I myself would like to see them sign Aaron Harang,possibly to a decent but not overwhelming 2 year deal ( ? ) I know he is getting up there at 37, but he pitched really well for the Braves and would possibly be a great fill in till a Taillon, Kingham,Sample or Glasnow might be ready for a consistent spot in the rotation.


is there any pitchers coming up next year that can help my fantasy team that no one else knows about :o)


No pitcher in the organization is unknown on this site ! To answer your earlier question to me, as far I am concerned, till McGuire gets to AA and performs as well as Elias Diaz did at that level, he isn’t nearly as close to MLB as Diaz is. I have only seen McGuire in Pirate City for a very short time, not enough to observe much at all. But he would have to show me a gun for an arm to be able to best Diaz in that category. Hitting is a bit more difficult to judge as Diaz didn’t hit much while a younger prospect either, while McGuire has shown very little power yet. I hope they both live up to expectations !

S Brooks

I agree with you that this team needs a frontline starter. And I think I understand the gist of what you’re going after – “how do we add a frontline starter without increasing net payroll (by more than a couple million)?” So I’m all for the creative approach.

But creativity still has to be grounded in reality, otherwise it’s just a daydreaming exercise. The reality, in this case, is the Pirates organization clearly does not see Alen Hanson as an opening day starting option for 2015, or they would have promoted him to AAA at some point during the just-concluded season. Hanson may eventually be the everyday 2B, perhaps even for opening day 2016, but this front office has never skipped a position prospect over AAA, so any scenario that assumes they would do so now is just not realistic.

If you trade Walker and his $8-9M salary for a similarly priced frontline starter like Kennedy, you still have to fill the hole at 2B. The only cost-neutral way to do that is put Alvarez back at 3B, move Harrison to 2B and play someone like Lambo everyday at 1B. Otherwise, either you’re keeping Davis, or making some other move that adds payroll, because the Bucs do not have suitable major-league-ready replacements in the infield. And if it’s going to cost more money, then I would rather sign Masterson or Liriano and keep the infield intact.


If Alen Hanson were to take a Major League position tomorrow, he’d almost certainly be a negative WAR player over the course of a season.

I know we hear it in scouting reports, but I’m not sure people truly understand how poor of a fielder Alen Hanson is, right now. Alen Hanson had more errors than Pedro Alvarez at the time he was taken off 3B, and Hanson should minimal improvement once he was moved to 2B. Combine that with an OBP that is barely major league average – in AA – and you have to seriously stretch to picture him adding positive value.


is there two completely different Hanson’s? I keep falling in love with Hanson, then thinking he’s not much of a prospect.. then back to at least looking forward to him coming up.. then back to not liking him.. most of what I have read is exactly what you said nmr.. why is there so much variance in his projections.. will the real allen Hanson please step up.. please step up.. sniff


Ha, this may seem counter-intuitive – ok, maybe even downright stupid – but I think of a kid like Hanson as a fine prospect, but not a very good baseball player.

All the skills to be a fine Major League Baseball player, just not very good at using them well. Yet.


Love your handle, though.


I definitely would rather have him stay in the minors for another year and a half but don’t you also think its possible he is one of those guys who would actually perform better in the big show, he seems to be the type that might get a little bored going through the motions in the minors with all his talent…………and I guess since we really need to be creative if we don’t trust Hanson we should trade him for something we need……….creatively you could maybe even pair him and snider for a starting pitcher………and thanks about the handle, my favorite players have always been the guys who can do it all…………Bonds was always my favorite, Torii Hunter for a long time, now Trout and McCutchen…..also why I’m so big on Marte and Polanco, their tools are ridiculous, speed and arms are absolutely ridiculous


And by all means, please don’t let my response turn you off from throwing ideas out there. It’s gonna be a long winter without any of that, so I certainly appreciate the effort.

Honestly, my personal opinion is that Alen Hanson broke out huge in low-A, was the closest thing Pirate fans have had to a legitimate shortstop prospect in years, and has ridden much of that to his current prospect status. I just don’t see any growth, from both a skill and statistical POV. Not to question his athletic ability or potential, but I struggle to put much trust in a prospect until he earns it.

Shoot, I was hoping you were calling YOURSELF a walking toolshed…80-grades on all five commenting tools. 😉

S Brooks

It’s not necessarily that the FO doesn’t trust Hanson, it’s that they don’t think he’s ready to contribute NOW.


In addition to a trade you could take a shot at the FA market. Jon Lester would cost about $25MM, but if you combine Wandy’s, Liriano’s and Volquez’s salaries the Pirates don’t have to stretch much farther to afford him. But is Lester better than Liriano? Who knows.


Well, I know that I keep bringing up Geovany Soto’s name as a possible replacement (but I’ll bring him up again). The obvious issue with him is the history of injuries, which would require keeping a 3rd catcher around (Chris Stewart??). But, I would certainly feel better about a Martin-less Pirates if you could get 90 games of Soto, 50 games of Tony Sanchez and 22 games of Chris Stewart, than the alternative of 120 games of Tony Sanchez and 42 games of Chris Stewart.

Of course, you spend $4-5 million on Soto and only get 20-30 games out of him, then it is a complete waste, and that is a major risk for the Pirates. But, it may come down to taking a big risk to try and make something out of the catching position, if they fail to retain Martin.


Over the past two seasons – the ones in which Martin has been a Pirate – 36 ball clubs have gotten 2 WAR or better from the catcher position. No, the Pirates will not likely be able to replace Russ Martin. No, Neal Huntington does not get a pass on the catcher position if Russ Martin is not able to be signed.

It is entirely reasonable to put together 2 WAR at the catcher position without Martin, presumably for much less than you’d have to pay Martin. The money left over – if spent wisely – could absolutely make up the difference between having Russell Martin and not, even as a 4 WAR player.


It think a combination of loss aversion and Martin hitting like a middle of order bat this season has lead to some overstatements on his value. Elite defense and league average hitting from catcher is very valuable, but options aren’t Rod Barajas/Tony Sanchez versus Russel Martin.

If the Pirates can find a suitable defensive catcher, not sure Soto would qualify I don’t think his framing numbers are very good, they could make up some of the lost value by finding way to get better offensive performance at first base.

Also of note, Stewart has been rated a better framer than Martin every year except this season. However based on how Tony Sanchez was used during Martin’s DL stint I don’t think the Pirates view Stewart as a starting option (which is probably a good idea.)

S Brooks

In a Martin-less world, Soto is not a terrible option.

Lee Foo Young

Jeff Locke is a league average pitcher. I’m fine with him in the rotation. I’m surprised that you think Worley is trustworthy, tho. I hope you’re right, but he’s not been a consistently good pitcher. There’s a reason Philly cut him.

But, I do agree that they need to bring in some starting pitchers, at least one.

Bottom line: Gonna be a VERY interesting Pirate offseason. NH will truly earn his pay THIS winter.

S Brooks

I think Jeff Locke is a good pitcher, but I don’t trust him to throw more than 120 innings. But to start out the season, I’m fine with him being one of the 5. Reckoning won’t come until after the ASB, and by then with any luck you’ve got Taillon, Kingham and/or Sampson to fill in.

The Pirates need a front line starter to slot in between Cole and Morton. The depth on this team is wonderful and plays well over a full season, and by ’16-’17 could make for a really special Nationals-like rotation, but if the objective is to win the division in ’15, I just don’t see how that happens when Charlie Morton is your #2 . To me, after the big free agent names, I think there are only 2 guys who can fit that bill – Frankie and Masterson. McCarthy has shown flashes – since he turned into a high GB% guy he has 2 1/2 good seasons and 1 1/2 forgettable ones, and the early projections are he’s a 3.75 ERA guy going forward, which this team has in spades. That’s also where I would expect Eddie to be, incidentally, if given another turn in Pittsburgh. Some of his FIP-beating is definitely luck.


I am starting to wonder whether Locke is more suited for the bullpen. Two years in a row his control has broken down in the second half. Is this due to a dead arm, and Locke has a lower limit of innings that he can be effective than you normally want from an MLB starting pitcher? I don’t know, but Locke is a relatively smaller, more frail guys than many pitchers. Maybe he is straining to keep his velocity up as the season progresses and that is affecting his control. A lower innings count might make him more effective.


Interesting thought, but his control didn’t breakdown last season, he never had much of any the entire season. And this year Locke’s control was poor in AAA, great in the major in June and July, and then fell apart in fell in August and was sporadic in September.

Additionally there is no evidence that smaller pitchers are less durable.

I think Jeff Locke is just inconsistent with his control and command, this is a trait that many pitchers have, Liriano, Morton, Volquez all come to mind, however when you throw harder some of this inconsistency can be mitigated.


You’re gonna have to define what you mean by “smaller” and “durable”.


Height and injury. Piraddict proposed that Locke is more prone to injury/fatigue, this may be true. However his height shouldn’t be used as evidence of such, I know there is this idea that taller pitchers are less likely to be injured and pitch more innings but this isn’t found in the data.


Andrew, I was referring to muscle mass rather than height. Locke is listed at 6’0 and 185 lbs. Ed Volquez is the only other 6’0 er on the 40 man and he goes 220 lbs. Most of the pitchers go 215 to 240, though they are all taller. 185 lbs is solid for your 6’0 average citizen, but not for an elite professional athlete. So my ” frail” comment should be taken as relative to other pitchers. I agree that height isn’t so important, but muscle mass probably is important with regards to durability. Look at Greg Karstens as the poster child for “frail body” breakdown, which was too bad for both him and the Pirates.


Sorry for the misunderstanding. Again I can see that and Locke might certainly be frail, but the association between weight and injury runs the opposite direction, heavier pitcher are more likely to end up injured. This is most likely because mass and velocity are strongly linked.

My point is somewhat pedantic, Locke certainly could be frail but I just don’t think you can deduce anything by his appearance. There are lot of theories that size is protective in injuries across sports but they don’t hold up to scrutiny.


When Pirateadict said small and frail, I took that to be representing his stature more than simply height.

And I always took that idea to mean build more than height. You don’t hear anybody saying Tyler Glasnow has the body to be a “workhorse”, right?



Locke hasn’t shown that his body can hold up to a full season workload as a Major League starter. Locke looks like a league average pitcher when you scout the stat line at the end of the year, but we all know it’s more nuanced than that.

Whether or not a bullpen role suits him is tough to tell as certain guys see much bigger jumps in stuff than others, Tony Watson being an excellent example.


Whorley was traded from Philly to Minn for Denard Span


I wonder if the Phillies will finally be honest with themselves and finally start a rebuild. If so, I wonder what it’d take to get Carlos Ruiz. Would be a fine replacement for Martin if he goes elsewhere.


If, you could get the Phillies to eat some of Ruiz’ s contract value, maybe. But as you and I know, IF can be a mighty big word !


I dunno. It’s just 2 yrs, 17 mil. basically what Martin signed for 2 years ago.

And honestly, he is probably a better bet to be worth that money than what Martin was when Martin first signed.

Nobody thought Martin would have this kind of resurgence. Ruiz won’t have a 5 WAR year like Martin, but he’s a safe 2.5. Totally worth 2 x 17.

And like recent articles have mentioned…. the Pirates have PLENTY of money to spend when you consider the money theyre shedding this offseason.

If they DID lose Martin (and I truly believe that they will NOT lose Martin), I think Ruiz would be a fine way to distribute the money that Martin *used to* make.

Trade for Ruiz. Sign McCarthy. Re-sign Liriano. Boom.

Or just re-sign Russ and just get one of those pitchers. works for me too.

But yeah. The Phillies probably don’t have a realistic view of their players. So this isn’t even worth typing up. oh well. already typed it up.


I would disagree with you on your ” better bet…..” thought, but not enough to be argumentive about it.

Nick Koll

To me there are two questions here. 1) What are the Pirates needs to compete all year and make it back to the playoffs. I think this is the question Tim is asking and what people will generally answer. I think the second question is 2) What do the Pirates need to take that next step and actually advance to and win a World Series. I realize you need to build a team to make the playoffs first, but I’ve now watched the Pirates be eliminated two years in a row after having a really solid seasons. To advance in the playoffs and ultimately win you need starting pitching, specifically an ace.

Going back to say 2008, we have seen some parity in baseball in the form of smaller market teams advancing to the playoffs, maybe winning a series…but just look at the teams that have played in the World Series in the past 6 seasons. With the exception of the Rangers, every team has that bonafide ace, an unquestioned great starting pitcher at that time. You could argue the Pirates had that last year in Liriano, but not this year. The Pirates flat out did not have the starting pitching to really compete for World Series.

This year could buck the trend a little, with the Orioles not having top flight pitchers and the Royals only having Shields as a true ace. But in the NL, the same characters are there…the Giants and Cards. The Nats and Dodgers have aces too, but didn’t it come down to the team with the starting pitching that was just a little better? Kershaw is great, but had two bad outings….Dodgers lose.

I’ve enjoyed every minute of these past couple seasons and wouldn’t trade them for anything. But objectively, I have to wonder what is holding the Pirates back from being a very serious World Series contender rather than just a good, well built team that will be competitive and make the playoffs. To me it’s starting pitching….clear as day.


I think the real question is what do the Pirates need to win the division. As we have seen, the WC game isn’t the best option. AT least in a series one bad game doesn’t kill you.


Its Hurdle- period.


“Kershaw is great, but had two bad outings….Dodgers lose.”

And you’ve just pointed out the fallacy of your argument, not that it’s a unique one, mind you.

Clayton Kershaw is the best pitcher currently alive on planet earth. If your World Series strategy is getting the best starting pitching possible, and the best possible starting pitcher fails to get you past even the first round of playoffs, then your World Series strategy isn’t a very good one.


there was nothing wrong with the strategy. the execution was the problem. that and the Cards are very good at getting to pitchers in the playoffs. They don’t beat themselves at the plate very often.


Lester- not so good. Price- DIdn’t help. Kershaw- one flop and one good but not good enough start. Shields- one decent and one bad outing, Orioles? No ace there. 3 #2 pitchers are way better than an ace. In the playoffs, all it matters is who is hot at the right time, the best playoff team to the worst playoff team wouldn’t make that much difference in 100 simulated 7 game series’s, there is too much parity. The playoffs are when “in-game” management is important, and why we are unlikely to win the world series. Hurdle just doesn’t get it. Put the right players in the right spots where you have the best chance at being succesful, and have as many of them being at the top of their game when the playoffs hit. That’s the world series winner nearly every year


The fallacy with your argument NMR is that realistically only a pitcher with #1 ability can reasonably be expected to have a #1 performance in the World Series. Of course having #1 ability doesn’t assure #1 performance in the clutch (ergo Kershaw). But if you don’t have #1 ability to start with you have no reasonable hope of ever getting a #1 like performance in the WS. The Pirates had no one on their 2014 staff that demonstrated #1 ability during the regular season. It would have been a complete anomaly to see a #1 performance by a Pirate’s pitcher in a World Series. In the 2014 preseason one would have expected Liriano and Cole to provide #1 or #2 performance. While each struggled with injuries that set them back, their 2014 regular season performances were at a #3 level. Ironically it was Worley and Volquez who provided the best 2014 statistical performance. And they are not an adequate basis upon which to expect post season success.


I disagree, addict. I’ve watched very little baseball since the Bucs lost the WC game, but I did catch Bud Norris totally shutting down a pretty good Tigers offense in (I think) game 3 of their series. Bud Freaking Norris? And I just looked up the other games from that series. So the Birds started Tillman, Chen and Norris (I feel like I should give you first names there so you actually know who they are) while the Tigers started Scherzer, Verlander and Price. So the “Ace theory” is 0 fer 3 just in one series this year. I’m sure there are many more examples this year and in recent years.
Sure having an “ace” or two makes you feel a whole lot better going into a best of 5 or 7 series, but it’s nowhere close to being a sure thing of winning, or even of not getting swept! Bottom line, build the team to make the playoffs and hope you get lucky enoough to win a World Series. After the Orioles, Royals and Giants this year, there really can be no disputing the luck factor.


Don’t dispute the luck factor at all Sticky. But by definition luck is beyond one’s control. Who was it who said that the more prepared they were they luckier they got? I can’t remember. Anyway, let’s not confuse the expected value (average outcome) of an event with the possibility of a low probability outcome happening (what you are referring to as luck). Common sense, and probability, says that you expect a #1 to beat a #3 , (not that it will happen every time). I don’t know what the actual odds are, but for the sake of argument let’s assume the odds are .60/.40 that a #1 beats a #3 , all other things being equal. The odds of three #3 ’s winning in a row would be 0.064. Not large, but certainly less than a three game sweep of by the #1 ’s (0.216). So the lesson is that it’s best to prepare ahead of time by having #1 ’s rather than #3 ’s. Doing so doesn’t guarantee success, but it does make it more probable.


That’s just not true.


Which part?


After reading the rest of your thoughts I don’t think we’re actually too far apart.

I assumed you were much more firm on this comment than it seems like you really are:

“…realistically only a pitcher with #1 ability can reasonably be expected to have a #1 performance in the World Series.”

I think our biggest difference is in what we seem to call a #1 .


I can see how the comment you quoted can be easily misunderstood, because I didn’t express my thoughts clearly. When I think of a pitchers performance I think not only of an average statistic, the kind that ends up as a year end result on a bubble gum card, but also a distribution of outcomes that varies game by game. Some players have better averages than others, but predictability (a narrow distribution characterized by a small standard devlation) is also important. A true #1 has both better average (expected value) statistics, a narrower distribution and better qualitative intangibles as well (Cole is high on those).

If you put the statistical distributions of performance of a #1 and a #3 on the same graph of say ERA on the x-axis and probability of occurrence on the y-axis the mean of the #1 distribution would fall to the left of the #3 distribution mean. But there would be an area of overlap of the two distributions from which circumstances could occur that a #3 could beat a #1 . My point was supposed to be that if you have a #3 distribution it’s never going to be a #1 distribution, and the #1 is likely to beat the #3 as a result.

Any quantitative evaluation of what constitutes a #1 , #2 etc. should average a lot of statistics like ERA, WHIP and so on, as well as include qualitative factors. But to oversimplify and just use ERA I define the measures as:
#1 : ERA< 2.75
#2 : 2.75<ERA<3.25
#3 : 3.25<ERA<3.75
#4 : 3.75<ERA<4.25
#5 : 4.25<ERA
This is a little tougher than league average standards, but you want your team to have an edge in a head to head battle. But it's all arbitrary so feel free to disagree.

Nick Koll

You’re right and I guess my argument does have holes. I don’t know why Kershaw was terrible this year. Maybe he had a bad week, maybe he can’t pitch in big games.

I still believe starting pitching is key in the playoffs. When a pitcher is dominant, that team wins. Unless they are up against a team with a pitcher that is more dominant. Just like any other position on the field, that player needs to excel….if he doesn’t then that’s just part of the game, this game isn’t played on paper.

In the end, if you’re going to point to one area that gives you the best CHANCE to win…its starting pitching. The previous World Series matchups don’t lie.


Kershaw is a lifetime 5 and 9 against St. Louis.

He has always had trouble with them – probably a player or two but I did not look at individual match ups.

And as Andew points out below there is a bit of random luck in a shorts series…

the link below is from ESPN – it was written around basketball – but the numbers don’t change for baseball

It is interesting to note that even when one team is very dominant – would win say 7 out of every 10 times the two teams play – the weaker opponent can and will win a three game series once every 5 years or so, a 5 game series every 6 years or so and a 7 game series about once every 8 years. So longer series do work to the benefit of the “better” team – but not to the extent you might think.


Very true, if a team was favored .67 to .33, you would have to play 23 games to reduce the weaker teams chance of winning to 5%.


The key to playoff success is getting there frequently. Everything is important.

I would argue the ability to leverage quality relievers is greater than starting pitching. With multiple off-days, starting pitching shouldn’t be exposed to lineup more than three times and in many cases that might be too much.

The Cardinals after being 29th in home runs in the regular season have scored 13 of the their 18 runs via the home run. In the regular season 7.7% of their hits went over the fence (league average is around 10%) in the last four games 23.3%. Odd things happen in small samples.


Great stats on the Cards, Andrew. I really hate those guys. But really shows how you can build any team any way and luck (or SSS) can override it all.

IC Bob

This year really doesn’t match your argument. The Cards pitching has been average at best outside of Wainwright and he is hurt. The Giants have one good pitcher and the rest are average. Peavy is hot but so was Volquez, The Os pummel you to death. Success in post season comes down to teams best players relaxing and being clutch. In the Pirates that just has not been the case in either year. No doubt the Giants and the Cards feed off of their previous success. Teams like the Bucs and Nats clearly struggled under the bright lights. Hopefully the Bucs learn from this and realize each player has to play his game. Let the manager change strategies if necessary.


Oh I absolutely agree that pitching is key. You’d be hard pressed to find a bigger pitching and defense guy than me.

My view on what that really means has evolved a bit, though. Is starting pitching, specifically, the reason teams that are successful in the playoffs are successful in the playoffs? Or is that really more selection bias? Generally speaking, good baseball teams have good starting pitching, and good baseball teams have good success in the playoffs. I think an argument can be made that there is as much correlation as causation going on there.

Also, as it specifically pertains to the post season, RELIEF pitching is actually more important. Not to keep picking on your analogy, but even Big Game James has lasted just 11 innings in two starts with an ERA barely under 5. The Royals absolutely dominant relievers are who led their success on the pitching side, not the starters.

Nick Koll

I can agree with this too…relief pitching is huge. So why can’t the Pirates take the next step? Why can’t the Nats take the next step after dominating some regular seasons? Does it really come down to folding under pressure or not being hot at the right time?

I’ve been trying to figure this out, watching the Pirates be totally dominated by a starting pitcher two years in a row in the playoffs. After Game 4 last year, you just knew they were done. You knew they would go to St. Louis and Wainwright would win the game.

If there’s no tangible explanation, that’s fine. Maybe we just have to hope they keep making the playoffs and somehow things break right and they make a World Series. You just get that feeling they are far away from that.


Decent MLB pitchers can always throw a shutout. Take Volquez as an example. He threw five 6+ inning shutouts in 31 starts this season. Could he throw a shut out in a World Series game? Sure. Would someone be wise to bet on him doing so? Probably not. The Pirates ran into Wacha and Bumgarten when they were pitching lights out. It happens. It doesn’t mean that the Pirates are incapable of playing well in big games. Winning at St. Louis with last years Wainwright on the mound was a low probability outcome, so it was no surprise that it didn’t happen.


BUMGARNER….It’s not that difficult. He’s not JIM GARNER, he’s BUM GARNER!!!


Is he your cousin?


Nick, would it make you feel any better knowing that numerous theoretical scenarios (Pythag, various expected W-L, etc) had the Pirates as several games better than the Cards this year, and some of them actually have the Cards as a non-playoff team? I didn’t think so, but it goes to show that not only does the best team not always win a short series, but the best team doesn’t even always win a 162 game division race. So there’s just a ton of stuff you can’t plan and build for, but if the Bucs get to the playoffs every year, they’ll break through eventually.

Nick Koll

Your last sentence could sum all of this up. You just can’t predict anything…especially in a 5/7 game series.

But the Cards are in their 4th straight NLCS, the Giants have now made it 3 out of the last 5 years. If there ever was a year, this would be the year you say “Really? The Giants? I didn’t think they were that good”…..there’s just something about those organizations.


Teams full of playoff veterans. Of the teams on the NL side they had the most of those. Doesn’t explain KC and the O’s however.


First order of business is to make the QO to BOTH Martin and Liriano. I actually think the best outcome for the Bucs is that both of them accept. I don’t expect that to happen – but one year deals with them might be best for the team. I also think the Bucs need to aggressively pursue a right hand bat for the bench – ideally someone who could play both first base and corner outfield. Some have mentioned Scott Van Slyke and he would be great – but only at the right price. The Dodgers might be interested in either Melancon or Watson as setup men – they did not trust the current bullpen to get the game to their very good closer.


Melancon or Watson would be two high a price for Van Slyke. Correctly or incorrectly many teams pay too much in trade (and dollars) for top relievers.

Lee Foo Young

Like the QO to both….DON’T like trading MM or Tony for Scott Van Slyke. I like SVS, but not for a top reliever. I believe we could get SVS cheaper.


I am all for cheaper – but I think SVS has 5 years of very valuable team control remaining – that and his 3 WAR are going to make him expensive. Bucs might even have to sweeten the pot over either MM or TW….


I think Van-Slyke is a fine player but that is a very high cost for a player that you want for what 300 PAs? Additionally is overall offensive line is inflated by a .340 BABIP on grounders (league average .235) and .897 BABIP on line drives (league average .680).


SVS is the kind of player I hope a team like Cincinnati thinks is an everyday outfielder.

S Brooks

It’s a high acquisition cost for a bench bat. If you’re going to go that route, you might as well make SVS the (mostly) everyday 1B – which he could probably do, incidentally. Van Slyke more than holds his own against same-handed pitchers.

Scott Kliesen

The fact there is going to be a lot of SP FA’s should make it relatively easy to acquire the one or two needed to start next season. I realize no player has ever signed his FA tender, but after what happened to Ervin Santana last season, I wonder if Liriano may be the first? This isn’t exactly the best off season to be a fringe Ace. Especially one w an injury and inconsistent command history, too. I may be wrong, but I can’t see many teams even considering giving Liriano a 3 yr 40 mm contract, or the like, plus losing their 1st round pick.


SK: Good point about Liriano, but if I were a team with a late first round pick, I might be tempted to sign him. But, what you are saying about him is what I alluded to with Martin in a previous thread. He will be entering his age 32 season in 2015, and almost all of the teams who made the playoffs are well set with Catchers. In the NL Central for example, only Chicago may be in need of a Catcher, but would they want to invest long term monies in an aging veteran? On the other side of that, is that the type of situation Martin is looking for, or is he looking to go to a now winner? Texas could be a possibility except for the fact that the Angels, Athletics, and Mariners are all well set for now and the future, so there is no assurance of being on a winning team.

Is it possible that the Pirates are the only team interested in both of these guys if the basis for another team is 4 years at $60+++ mil and a first round draft pick?


Castillo isn’t bad, but the Cubs do have money to spend and Theo seems to think they could be fringe legitimate by next season. If they sign Lester or Shieilds, I could see them making a strong bid for Martin, and years wouldn’t be a huge issue.

QO Liriano and let happen what happens.

As far as what the Pirates need to do, that’s simple: field a better team. That doesn’t necessarily mean Pedro or an FA at 1b. I does mean adding more WAR in the IF and OF. Hopefully Polanco/Snider provide a bump in RF. I have ideas on the IF that I’ve mentioned before, but to crickets.

As a side note, if few people are really sold on Volquez as a great option for 2015 and nobody really wanted Worley to pitch the WC game, then why discuss more “reclamation projects”? That’s not going to get this team over the top. If folks don’t think a Jason Vargas or Bud Norris would’ve helped last year to cover Wandy/Locke starts, I don’t know what else to say.


I’m interested in your infield suggestions.. there’s a lot of different ways they could go given the flexibility they have with jhay.


Walker’s ISO was .195, tops among qualifying 2b. His wRC+ was 3rd. If he was at 1b, those numbers would have put him at 17th in ISO and 11th at wRC+ among qualifying 1b. That doesn’t sound terrific until you compare that to Davis (36/26) & Gaby (31/37). Pedro fares better in ISO if he’s the 2012-13 Pedro but lags behind Walker in wRC+ even in his best seasons.

Using OPS+, Walker was behind only Cano and Altuve at 2b. But Harrison was ahead of Walker, implying Harrison would provide better offense at 2b. Walker would’ve ranked 5th OPS+ among qualifying 1b.

To me, the answer isn’t moving Pedro to 1b. It’s moving Walker to 1b and Harrison to 2b, which should also boost defense runs saved at 2b, maybe even 1b given Ike was a minus defender in 2014.

So who do you play at 3b? Well, ideally you figure out a way to pry Josh Donaldson from Oakland or Kyle Seager from Seattle. But, there’s little to no chance to do that, so look a bit lower down the totem pole for a guy who could give you as good or better defense than Josh and provides significantly more offense than Ike/Gaby or Pedro might on the other corner. I think that guy is Trevor Plouffe. It still might be Chase Headley. I’m not mentioning Panda as he’ll get a QO and a 5 to 7 year deal from somebody, maybe even the Giants.

If Miguel Sano (remember him?) didn’t get hurt this year, Plouffe would likely move to a corner OF spot where he’d be fairly average. There’s still a chance Sano comes up mid-year. Twins are going nowhere and they know it. They could be convinced to trade Plouffe for prospects and possibly Pedro himself. Plouffe would be less than Headley for sure.


I like it. I thought of Walker at 3rd and Harrison at 2nd as I think Harrison has a little better range. Then look for an everyday 1st baseman. What you COULD do is move Walker to 1st and then put Harrison where you DON”T find a guy between 2nd and 3rd. It gives you more options as to who you can bring in. In my mind Pedro, Ike and Gaby aren’t options.

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