Links: Hot Stove Winners, Crossroads for Alvarez, More Strikeouts For Cole, Pirates Needs

The end of the year is typically a slow time for baseball news, although there have been a few interesting articles I’ve read over the last few days, providing some analysis either on the Pittsburgh Pirates, or on baseball in general. Here is a look at four of those links.

**Every off-season, there is a team, or multiple teams that end up being labeled as “off-season winners.” A few years ago it was the Toronto Blue Jays. Last year the Seattle Mariners were one of those teams. The theme is the same every year: a team has a busy off-season, and as a result, people dream about them leaping over the rest of the league and becoming contenders. Despite this phenomenon, when the season rolls around, you never really hear from those teams as sure-thing contenders.

Neil Paine at Five Thirty Eight wrote about this, saying that the hot stove season offers more sizzle than substance. A few of the interesting points and stats from the article:

  • Since 2000-01, only about 14% of all WAR in any given MLB season were generated from hot stove acquisitions
  • Last year those players generated 7.6% of all WAR in baseball. By comparison, players making their debut accounted for 5.4%.
  • Paine says that, prior to 2014, you could have zeroed out the WAR each team received from its pickups, and the playoff picture would have remained the same.

Paine does mention some of the benefits, such as the fact that about 30% of MLB WAR in 2014 was generated by a player who had been acquired during the hot stove season in the previous five years. And obviously, none of this says that teams shouldn’t add in the off-season. The point here is that the awards we hand out for off-season movement don’t usually result in awards in-season.

**Buster Olney wrote about 11 in baseball who are at a career crossroad (ESPN Insider). There are players and managers included, and one of the players is Pedro Alvarez. Olney points out that the Pirates have some contingencies for Alvarez, with the addition of Corey Hart and the potential addition of Jung-Ho Kang. Olney says that Alvarez could return to his previous standing as one of the top power hitters with a big year, or the Pirates could move on with a poor year. You’d have to wonder if they’ll move on either way, since Alvarez is only under control through the 2016 season. If he has success in 2015, they’d be able to get some value for him in a trade, and that would be a lot easier to do if Josh Bell has a big 2015 season in the upper levels and is knocking on the door.

**Eno Sarris looks at Gerrit Cole from a fantasy perspective, wondering if he should be striking out more batters. Sarris does note that the Pirates prefer their pitchers to focus on a fastball heavy approach, low pitch counts, and ground balls. He compares Cole to Yordano Ventura, Carlos Carrasco, and Stephen Strasburg, and the results aren’t favorable when it comes to strikeouts. I’ll point out that Cole is only 24, so a lot of this article seems early. Sarris does note that Cole could improve, and I think that’s likely to happen. For example, Carrasco is 27, and just had his first big strikeout year in 2014. He also noted that Cole hasn’t avoided injuries, although that was mostly due to time missed in 2014, and a big reason for the extended time off was that he rushed back after the first injury.

**Grant Brisbee looked at the biggest holes for every National League team. The biggest hole for the Pirates might be surprising to those who think they still have needs. Brisbee says it’s the backup catcher, noting how Francisco Cervelli has been injury prone, and might not be able to catch a full season. He also notes that he’s mostly nitpicking, and that the Pirates are a deep team. That gives you some perspective of how the team looks outside of Pittsburgh.

  • Alvarez is probably at the biggest crossroads of any player on the Pirates team this year, he has the most to gain and the most to lose.
    There are other players that are “If’s” “Ands” or “Buts”. But Alvarez is at the biggest crossroads.

  • The Pirate’s biggest hole is the lack of a true, shut down #1 starter like Mad Bum. Not that Cole or even Liriano doesn’t have the potential to become that. Cole needs to mature in his pitch selection and variation so he can get through the order 3+ times. If he would hire Greg Karstens as his personal mental pitching trainer and combine Karstens’ pitching approach with his own stuff he’d be among the best in the League.

  • IMO, we need a closer – can then move Melancon and Watson to former roles that both were better suited for. Our other needs are at first base, catcher (not sold on the ex-Yankee castoff duo), and another RH in the bullpen.

    • While I would like to see the Pirates get a more dominant closer, they are not going to pay Melancon $6mil+ to be a setup guy. The Pirates don’t have a need at firstbase, they have 5 internal options, Alvarez, Hart, Lambo, Sanchez, and Rodriguez. And as for catcher, Russell Martin was also a Yankee castoff who was ridiculed by the fans until they seen him play. I see Cervelli fitting into that mold.

      • In regards to first base, we have lots of quantity but no known quality – big question mark. I was thrilled when the Pirates signed Martin, because he was a very good defensive catcher, strong arm, and obvious leader. He was coming off a bad year with the bat, but had hit very well in LA. Cervelli has none of that track record – just a lot of injuries. Jury is very much out on him. Stewart had a good year last year – for him anyway – with the bat, but was disappointing defensively. He’s okay as a seldom starting backup, nothing more IMO.

    • Yeah, that above average (and top 5 type a times) closer we have is better suited elsewhere, because he isnt already great at closer. Lets pay someone good money to fill a spot we already get great production at.

  • Nice roundup, Tim.

    -I believe it would be a mistake to trade Alvarez following a bounce back season. Unless he has a truly breakout campaign, I find it hard to believe you’ll get more value through trade than if you kept him and extended a QO following 2016. He’d also make for an interesting Major League piece to use at the 2016 deadline to upgrade another weakness if Josh Bell shows he can compete. We saw last July how valuable big league pieces have become in deadline deals.

    -I could not agree more with Brisbee regarding the Pirates biggest hole. Being aggressive early in acquiring Cervelli was fine, but it feels like a mistake standing pat from then on after seeing the massive movement in the catcher market once Russell Martin signed. The Pirates unquestionably could’ve gotten better. Maybe only marginally so, but then again the same could be said about the Rodriguez, Hart, and Kang acquisitions. We do know the Pirates have been higher on Elias Diaz than most for a while, so it’s quite possible they’re counting on him in 2015.

    -I think Eno’s article is a bit misleading, regarding Cole. He’s not really asking if Gerrit Cole should be striking out more batters, he’s specifically asking if Cole should be striking out more batters than he’s PROJECTED to strike out (21%). In real life, Cole has struck out 21% of hitters in 2013 and 24% in 2014. Gerrit Cole very likely already is the pitcher Sarris wants him to be. Question why the projection has his K-rate regressing 3% before questioning why he isn’t striking out more batters.

    • NMR…I agree with #1 and #3 and partly agree with #2. If Cervelli stays healthy I am extremely optimistic. Granted, he has had a troubled injury history, but I believe he was worth the risk.

      Also, I really liked the Valle pickup even before he destroyed the Mexican League. His defense is major league ready and if the bat comes along…..

      • Sorry, Foo. Didn’t make point #2 clear enough.

        While I can’t call it extreme optimism, I’m perfectly fine with Francisco Cervelli getting the primary catching duties, at least to begin the year. Very little upside, given marginal plate discipline and no power, but wouldn’t be surprised to see him turn into a 2 WAR player with a full season workload given his defense alone. That’s essentially Jordy Mercer, which is fine.

        My issue is with the depth situation, specifically. Given what seems to be the reasonably high likelihood of Cervelli missing considerable time, I think the club could’ve done better than ending up with Chris Stewart – and clearly better than Sebastian Valle – getting upwards of 300 PA.

        Big caveat there being if they’re right about Elias Diaz. You won’t hear a peep out of me if he ends up being the player they think he’ll be.

    • Chris Stewart had a better than expected year last year. There’s no reason to spend more for back up catcher when Diaz (or Sanchez) is in the wings.

      • I could care less what Chris Stewart did last year. I care what Chris Stewart will do next year.

        Tony Sanchez “waiting in the wings” is the exact reason you spend more on a backup, if you actually want a good one.

  • I can almost guarantee that if Marte stays healthy he will have a monster season. I watch all our players carefully but it wasn’t hard to see late last year when Marte turned a corner. A corner I never thought he’d turn because basic baseball instincts don’t usually change much. He started laying off the 2 strike breaking ball in the dirt. it was truly amazing. The only question that remains for me is does he turn into the 20-25 hr guy I think he can be or does he start hitting for a high average and be a fantastic 1 or 2 hitter.
    I think he turns into our 4 hitter
    Lineup by mid season
    1. Harrison 3B
    2. Polanco RF
    3. Cutch CF
    4. Marte LF
    5. Walker 2B
    6 Alvarez vs RHP/Hart vs LHP 1B
    7. Mercer SS
    8. Cervelli/Stewart C.
    Mercer and Polanco switch spots vs lefties

  • I’d like to see Pimentel and Liz be Searage and Benedict’s next success story. They have fantastic stuff. If these two where to realize their potential you have the makings for one of the best power right handed reliever combo’s in baseball, Imagine if that happened with Watson,Bastardo and Melancon? It would essentially be a 5 inning game

  • I think the relief corps of Melancon, Watson, Bastardo, Holdzcom, Hughes, Liz stack up pretty well, especially if you see Taillon or Kingham coming up to join the pen in their first taste of the bigs.
    Worley, Cumpton, and Locke also probably project into pen roles to some degree.
    I don’t see Pimentel in a role of any significance though, his stuff seemed pedestrian last year unless he adds a more wipeout type pitch.
    In addition I see Brad Lincoln as a potential add to the group and Inman at AAA may also step up.

    • Arik Florimonte
      December 30, 2014 8:21 pm

      I also think this relief corps looks good. I’m worried about what happens if a few of them blow up or get injured.

    • Why would Taillon or Kingham go to the pen? They need to stay stretched out.

      • No different start than price or wainwright began and they turned into great starters.

        • They were both relievers for about a month in their career.

          • I was surprised to see that Wainwright actually did RP a full season in 2006 – 61 games, but yeah they weren’t yoyoing him back and forth between the pen and starting. Price a total of 5 relief appearances.

        • It’s different in that the Pirates do not share that philosophy, they believe its hard on their arms to switch back and forth, and neither of those two pitchers would have EVER came out of the pen the year after tommy john, that’s asking for trouble

          • Its also a completely different mentality for a pitcher. That the Pirates dont want future solid rotation arms worrying about being relief men for an entire year sits fine with me, as it allows these good arms to focus on their main task.

    • If I were a betting man, I would bet that you won’t get much out of Taillon at the MLB level till September if at all in 2015.

      • If I were a hopeful man, i’d hope that we wouldn’t need him before then. He really has no room in the rotation this year unless we get hammered in injury or someone or someone’s lay a big ole’ egg

        • If Taillon is pitching well in AAA and they feel comfortable with his arm he can bump a few guys out of this rotation. He’s got #2 stuff. No he won’t be a #2 this year but if he’s having a good year he’s a better choice than Morton,Locke and possibly Burnett and Worley. He hasn’t been a top prospect for nothing

          • Abstractly, I agree with this. However, I don’t think you can count on Taillon for much more than 150 IP in 2015. He’s not going to be up before mid-June, regardless of how well he’s throwing. At that point, do you take a guy out of the rotation knowing you’ll have to work him back into the fold in a couple months when Taillon hits his limit?

    • If LIZ can be a righty set up man and can pitch well out of jams, i’d be cool with it. There is no chance of taillon or Kingham coming up and going into the pen

  • RichardJarzynka
    December 30, 2014 7:34 pm

    The biggest hole for the Pirates is a right-handed set-up reliever.

    • Arik Florimonte
      December 30, 2014 8:00 pm

      Ha, I was going to say left-handed set-up reliever. I like the two they have, but the depth is lacking. But I think you could argue the biggest weakness is bullpen depth, and I wouldn’t mind them bringing in another reliever or two from either side. And there are potentially good ones still out there.

    • The biggest hole is the 4-hole, and who to put in it. Pedro has a lifetime .642 OPS there. The lineup in general has been a problem for a couple years, only improving when first Byrd and then Martin added power and on-base to the 5-hole and JHay did the same at leadoff, after Polanco et al struggled there.

      • RichardJarzynka
        December 30, 2014 8:17 pm

        Here’s my lineup:
        1. Harrison
        2. Snider
        3. McCutchen
        4. Walker
        5. Marte
        6. Alvarez
        7. Cervelli
        8. Mercer

        • Yeah, that is the most sensible lineup. Maybe switch 7 and 8.

        • There’s no way Polanco doesn’t get an extended starting look. Snider is a great 4th OF to have.

          • RF is Polanco’s to loose. Snider had years to make his claim. It’s time to turn the page, especially since Polanco has a much higher ceiling than Snider ever had.

            • No, that’s incorrect. a #1 draft pick never has a lower ceiling than an undrafted free agent. However the rest of your statement is correct, 3 months of production don’t undo 5 years of mediocrity.

              • Ceiling is assigned according to perceived talent, not according to the manner in which the player was originally acquired.

                If your rule were credible, then Danny Moskos has a higher ceiling than Gregory Polanco. I doubt anyone believes that.

              • >a #1 draft pick never has a lower ceiling than an undrafted free agent.

                Wrong. 1) Scouts can be wrong. 2) MOST nations in the world are not part of the draft. Polanco was an undrafted free agent because their is no draft in his nation. Other UFAs: Sammy Sosa, Julio Franco, Miguel Tejada, Tony Fernandez, Vlad Guerrero, David Ortiz, Aramis Ramirez, Pedro Martinez, Johnny Cueto, Ichiro Suzuki, Hideki Matsui, Fernando Valenzuela, …..

                > why do we feel compelled to leave him at 3 …

                Because he is the team’s best hitter. Putting him at #3 gives him about 50 PAs a year more. We don’t put him at #1 for the reasons you noted. We don’t put him at #2 because their job often is to take pitches for the #1 guy to steal or to focus on advancing that guy often by bunting.

              • You are right in theory but wrong in application. Especially in the initial draft class with draft eligible kids.
                If you play around on the google machine, you can find articles where they reorder draft classes.

        • Your lineup won’t work because Polanco will be playing, and Snider is the worst #2 hitter in history.

          B)

          1. Polanco (takes walks, lefty, beats out ground balls can steal bases)
          2. Harrison (hits great with men on base and can bunt)
          3. Walker or Marte
          4. McCutchen (why do we feel compelled to leave him at 3 when he doesn’t run anymore, he is a power hitter)
          5. Walker or Marte
          6. Mercer (Mercer hits WAY better up in the lineup)
          7. Alvarez
          8. Cervelli

          • I don’t have a horse in the race when it comes to the the proposed line-ups you and Richard have posted…but…wow…

            Last off season, if you’d have told me there was a discussion about whether the reigning HR champs would be bating 6th or 7th…I’d have thought you both were crazy.

          • What do you mean . Cutch shouldn’t be in the 3 hole because he’s a power hitter and he doesn’t run anymore? That’s usually where your best hitter hits. the 3 spot is usually where your most well rounded offensive player hits. you make no sense. This isn’t little league.He fits the 3 hole perfectly and he still does run. That doesn’t mean he should never hit 4th but we need someone to put in the 3 hole to allow Cutch to hit 4th. We don’t have that Walker isn’t a 3 hitter and Marte isn’t there yet. Marte actually fits better in the 4 or 5 spots. you want a guy who hits for a high average and power in the 3 spot

          • Mercer hitting behind Marte and in front of Alvarez seems pretty silly.

            Mercer has a career .293 OBP against RHP. That’s not good. Batting Alvarez behind Marte will either give Marte a ton of stolen bases or Alvarez a ton of fastballs. Both are good things.

          • You lose around 30 PA a year for every spot you move a guy down in the batting order. I can’t think of any situation where I’d rather have a non-McCutchen hitter (even a good one) hitting instead of McCutchen, much less 30 of them, so moving him from 3 to 4 doesn’t seem like a good idea to me.

        • Yeah Polanco would have to have a pretty terrible spring and start out in AAA to not be the starting RF for most of this season. They believe Polanco is going to be an ALL-Star caliber player so they have to let him play and struggle this season if need be

    • I can agree with that Richard. I don’t like leaning on Watson too much especially since he is worthless if you have to bring him in, in the middle of an inning, I might as well go pitch. We need an option B, and currently, it just isn’t there unless someone steps up

    • Are you saying you don’t like the Hughes, Liz and Holdzcom options?

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