NL Central Preview: Pittsburgh Pirates

Pittsburgh Pirates

Manager: Clint Hurdle (9th Season)

2018 Record: 82-79 (4th in NL Central)    2019 Payroll: $59,775,002 (29th in MLB)

Additions: SP Jordan Lyles, RP Michael Feliz, OF Lonnie Chisenhall, OF Melky Cabrera

Losses: SP Ivan Nova, IF Josh Harrison, SS Jordy Mercer

The Pirates are a solid overall team that is going to suffer from being in the stacked NL Central. They traded Ivan Nova away to the White Sox for some young prospects and some international signing money. Pittsburgh signed Lonnie Chisenhall, who will likely fill in out in right field while Gregory Polanco is recovering from left shoulder surgery. The Pirates made some big moves last season by acquiring Chris Archer and Keone Kela and also trading away Gerrit Cole, but they haven’t really made any big moves this off-season. Lonnie Chisenhall isn’t nearly enough for Pirates fans to get excited about. The Pirates have been cautious because they are stuck in a tough division and they’re not sure how their season is going to end up. I think the Pirates will be around 80 wins right now and 4th or 5th in the NL Central.

2019 Pirates Lineup (Projected Statistics)

Pos Players HR RBI AVG OBP SLG Fld WAR
CF Starling Marte 17 70 0.282 0.334 0.442 -1.1 3.3
2B Adam Frazier 7 41 0.272 0.339 0.394 -2.6 1.4
LF Corey Dickerson 17 60 0.275 0.317 0.466 0.9 1.6
1B Josh Bell 15 59 0.270 0.359 0.445 -3.0 1.3
3B Colin Moran 10 44 0.265 0.328 0.407 -2.5 1.1
RF Gregory Polanco 13 43 0.259 0.335 0.454 0.8 1.4
C Francisco Cervelli 7 37 0.257 0.357 0.383 -0.3 2.1
SS Kevin Newman 4 40 0.268 0.313 0.359 -2.4 0.9
Bench
3B Jung Ho Kang 8 26 0.265 0.339 0.462 -0.6 0.8
OF Jose Osuna 3 14 0.268 0.316 0.43 0.0 0.1
OF Lonnie Chisenhall 7 30 0.260 0.321 0.414 -0.4 0.4
C Elias Diaz 3 15 0.269 0.318 0.397 -0.1 0.6

The Pirates lineup isn’t terrible, but it’s not what they need to compete in the Central. Starling Marte is still the best position player on the Pirates and will likely lead the team in many of the major stats. Josh Bell is crucial to what the Pirates are on offense. He was exciting as a prospect and showed major power, but last season Bell had just 12 homers and was really kind of disappointing. Polanco was great last season and had the best OPS of his career until his shoulder injury which will keep him out for the first few months of 2019. Jung Ho Kang is back and he’s had quite the story. He’d been gone for almost two years because of several DUIs on his record in Korea. He wasn’t allowed back into the US, but finally got the visa situation figured out and came back halfway through last season. He played some in AAA and came up at the very end of last season and went 2-for-6 in Pittsburgh. Kang and Colin Moran will fight for time at third base, Moran looked good at the beginning of last season, but production dipped later in the year.

Defensively, the Pirates are not great, with multiple below average defenders in their lineup. Kevin Newman takes over at shortstop with the departure of Jordy Mercer. Newman hit just .209 in 97 at bats with the Pirates in 2018, but hit .302 in AAA Indianapolis. Newman doesn’t have much power at the plate with just 4 homers combined last season. His double play partner Adam Frazier was solid last season batting .277 with 10 home runs and one of the lowest strikeout rates on the team. The Pirates should expect about the same from Frazier in 2019.

2019 Pirates Starting Rotation (Projected Statistics)

Pitcher ERA GS IP SO WHIP K/9 BB/9 WAR
Chris Archer 3.64 32 191 204 1.23 9.58 2.74 3.8
Jameson Taillon 3.89 32 190 178 1.26 8.46 2.4 3.3
Joe Musgrove 4.02 28 162 141 1.27 7.83 2.23 2.4
Trevor Williams 4.71 26 145 110 1.43 6.8 3.08 1.1
Mitch Keller 4.57 16 92 79 1.43 7.73 3.66 0.7
Nick Kingham 4.52 16 108 92 1.35 7.63 2.78 0.7

When the Pirates made the trade for Chris Archer last season they secured an ace for their staff through 2021. Archer has had some of the best stuff in the game in the past, but hasn’t been quite as good over the last few years. They did lose young starter Tyler Glasnow in trading for Archer. Nick Kingham and Mitch Keller will battle it out for the five spot in the rotation and newly signed journeyman Jordan Lyles may get some starts as well. If the Pirates are going to be in the division conversation, Archer and Taillon will have to pitch to their potential and Musgrove and Williams are going to have to pitch at least as well as they did last season. Mitch Keller is a young pitcher to watch out for (Pirates #2 Prospect). Keller was dominant through AA and struggled right away when he was called up to AAA. He settled in after a while and finished the year strong. His upper 90s sinker and curveball are both plus pitches and his changeup is developing. He may not start the year in Pittsburgh, but he will be up at some point. He likely won’t be up until mid-season after the Pirates see what happens with Jordan Lyles.

2019 Pirates Bullpen (Projected Statistics)

Pitcher ERA G IP SO WHIP K/9 BB/9 WAR
Felipe Vazquez 2.93 65 65 82 1.16 11.33 3.19 1
Keone Kela 3.25 65 65 83 1.19 11.42 3.44 1
Richard Rodriguez 3.78 55 55 61 1.22 9.99 3.08 0.3
Kyle Crick 4.04 55 55 57 1.37 9.27 4.04 0.2
Steven Brault 3.97 45 45 44 1.4 8.85 4.14 0.1
Michael Feliz 3.94 40 40 44 1.31 9.83 3.67 0.2
Jordan Lyles 4.33 38 53 45 1.38 7.68 3.04 0.2
Dovydas Neverauskas 4.14 30 30 31 1.42 9.26 4.38 0
Tyler Lyons 4.07 10 10 10 1.3 8.95 3.12 0

Felipe Vasquez and Keone Kela are one of the best 8th/9th inning combinations in the majors. Richard Rodriguez was quietly very good in 2018 as well with a strikeout rate among the best and very similar to that of Felipe Vasquez. Beyond that, the Pirates bullpen is very unproven. They signed Michael Feliz during the offseason. They also signed Tyler Lyons to a minor league deal. The lefty and former St. Louis Cardinal will likely find himself up in Pittsburgh at some point this season. Kyle Crick came over from San Francisco in the Andrew McCutchen trade a year ago. Crick had a 2.39 ERA and was very good at keeping the ball in the ballpark as he allowed the least amount of home runs per 9 innings on the team in 2018. Steven Brault is a ground ball heavy lefty who can both start games and come out of the pen. Edgar Santana is another name who could be in the Pirates bullpen. Santana had the lowest walk rate of any Pirates pitcher last season.

Finally, a look at the Pirates future:

Pittsburgh Pirates: Top 10 Prospects

Rank Player Age Highest Level Position ETA
1 Ke’Bryan Hayes 22 AA 3B 2020
2 Mitch Keller 22 AAA RHP 2019
3 Travis Swaggerty 21 A CF 2021
4 Oneil Cruz 20 A CF 2021
5 Cole Tucker 22 AA SS 2020
6 Kevin Kramer 25 MLB 2B 2019
7 Luis Escobar 22 AA RHP 2021
8 Calvin Mitchell 19 A LF 2021
9 Bryan Reynolds 24 AA CF 2020
10 Pablo Reyes 25 MLB 3B 2019

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