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Morning Report: Breaking Down the Strengths and Weaknesses of the Pirates So Far

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The Pirates have struggled lately, falling to 12-14, and seeing their playoff chances sink like a stone over the past week. To get a better idea of where the issues lie with the team, I took a look at where each position ranks compared to the rest of baseball, giving an idea of where they can improve, and what they need to continue going right.

Starting Pitching

We’re going to start here, because this team is built around their starters, and as we’ve seen in the last week, they live and die by the success of those starters.

The Pirates currently rank fourth in the majors and second in the NL (behind only the Reds) for their rotation with a 3.3 fWAR. They rank third in ERA (1st in the NL), but rank 15th in xFIP. They do rank fourth in FIP, and the difference between the two is simply that they have avoided home runs, with a current 8.8% HR/FB ratio (the league average is 14.5% this year). This could be a concern if they fall closer to the league average in the future, as it takes away a big strength.

We’ve already seen this in the last week, with an 11.6% HR/FB ratio, which has only been part of their issue during that span.

The Bullpen

The Pirates were supposed to have strength in their bullpen as well, giving them a complete pitching staff to lead the team. The bullpen hasn’t been bad, but also hasn’t been elite. They currently rank tenth in the majors with a 1.0 fWAR. The ERA ranks 13th and the xFIP ranks 5th.

That all looks good on the surface. However, the situational stats don’t look as good. The bullpen has a -0.81 WPA, ranking 23rd in the majors. They rank 19th in shutdowns, and have the 11th most meltdowns.

They could definitely see improvement in this area, with Keone Kela and Richard Rodriguez being the two struggling relievers, and Felipe Vazquez being the only reliever with a positive WPA and considerably more than a 1:1 SD/MD ratio.

The Position Players

Let’s take a quick run through each position, and where the Pirates rank in the majors by fWAR:

Catcher – 27th (-0.5)

First Base – 13th (0.6)

Second Base – 20th (0.1)

Shortstop – 27th (-0.2)

Third Base – 28th (-0.2)

Outfield – 21st (0.7)

That’s overall WAR, with first base being the only position in the top half of the league (unless you count individual outfield positions, where center field ranks 13th). The question is whether this is due to offense or defense. Here are the offensive ranks by position, based on wOBA:

Catcher – 30th

First Base – 6th

Second Base – 16th

Shortstop – 27th

Third Base – 27th

Outfield – 23rd

Again, first base is the standout. The outfield as a group is poor, although center field ranks 13th. Second base looks better offensively, but looking at the overall ranks above, you already know the defense will be poor. Let’s get to that:

Catcher – 19th

First Base – 14th

Second Base – 29th (Yep)

Shortstop – 26th

Third Base – 25th

Outfield – 3rd

Some pretty bad ranks there, although the outfield defense has been a strength for this team. Josh Bell continues to get attention for the need to improve his defense. He does need to improve, but looking at his offensive and defensive ranks, he is well down the list as far as players to focus on for improvement.

The summary for the position players is that it’s a nightmare. That can’t all be blamed on depth and injuries, since the Pirates have maintained most of their starters outside of the outfield, and the outfield is only struggling offensively.

The strength of this team was going to be pitching, and the offense and defense was a concern (Note: The team actually ranks 3rd in base running runs, although I didn’t do a positional breakdown). The early results are that the position player group is even more of a concern. Maybe that will be improved when players return from the injured list, but even then I think they will need some improvements from what has already been shown from the healthy players.

TODAY’S SCHEDULE

Today’s Starter and Notes: The Pittsburgh Pirates were off yesterday, as they traveled to Texas to play the Rangers in a quick two-game set beginning tonight. Jordan Lyles will go up against former Pirates prospect Adrian Sampson. Lyles allowed four runs over five innings in his last start, after giving up just one run in his first three starts. Sampson has a 4.50 ERA, a 1.45 WHIP and 14 strikeouts in 22 innings, covering two starts and four relief appearances. His last two outings have been in relief and he combined for four shutout innings in those games.

The minor league schedule includes the fifth start of the season by Cody Bolton. He is holding batters to a .163 average and hasn’t allowed more than one earned run in a start this season. Indianapolis has a morning start time with Eduardo Vera on the mound. This is his second start against Columbus. He threw six shutout innings against them in his Triple-A debut.

Greensboro will send out Brad Case, who threw six shutout innings on one hit and no walks in his last start. Altoona’s Scooter Hightower goes up against Matt Manning, the 49th best prospect according to MLB Pipeline. Manning allowed one base runner (a single) over seven innings against Altoona earlier this season. He struck out ten batters that day.

The full 2019 Pirates Prospects Prospect Guide is now available, up to date as of April 3rd, with every player in the minor league system. Includes full reports on the top 50 prospects, reports on over 150 other players, as well as looks back at the recent drafts and international signing classes.

MLB: Pittsburgh (12-14) @ Rangers (14-13) 8:05 PM
Probable starter: Jordan Lyles (2.05 ERA, 21:5 SO/BB, 22.0 IP)

AAA: Indianapolis (13-10) vs Columbus (14-10) 11:05 AM (season preview)
Probable starter: Eduardo Vera (4.05 ERA, 15:7 SO/BB, 20.0 IP)

AA: Altoona (11-12) vs Erie (10-10) 6:00 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Scooter Hightower (5.71 ERA, 9:3 SO/BB, 17.1 IP)

High-A: Bradenton (16-8) @ Jupiter (7-16) 6:30 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Cody Bolton (0.82 ERA, 23:6 SO/BB, 22.0 IP)

Low-A: Greensboro (14-9) vs Rome (9-14) 7:00 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Brad Case (1.59 ERA, 15:2 SO/BB, 22.2 IP)

HIGHLIGHTS

From Indianapolis on Sunday, Erich Weiss with a tie-breaking home run in the ninth

Tim Williams
Tim Williams
Tim is the owner, producer, editor, and lead writer of PiratesProspects.com. He has been running Pirates Prospects since 2009, becoming the first new media reporter and outlet covering the Pirates at the MLB level in 2011 and 2012. His work can also be found in Baseball America, where he has been a contributor since 2014 and the Pirates' correspondent since 2019.

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