The Pittsburgh Pirates are officially out of the baseball wilderness! After being lost in the wild for 20 years, the mighty Bucs discovered a 94 win season last year and had a roster made of mostly fantasy baseball relevant guys. Even Charlie Morton was useful! Well, sadly, 2013 is over and it’s time to ask five questions of the 2014 Pittsburgh Pirates.
5. Did the Pirates have the most uninspiring off-season of 2014? Yeah, pretty much. They made a lot of minor league signing and kept themselves busy with a few minor trades, but they really went out of their way to sit on their hands. When your biggest offseason move is letting Garrett Jones go, you might want to make sure the phones and internet are still working. They needed help around the infield and could have used an extra outfielder, but they chose to stand pat. Pirates fans never got to see a player putting on a jersey over his suit, but they did get Andrew McCutchen and his unisuit!
4. Jody Mercer, High School yearbook editor or Pirates starting shortstop? Starting shortstop, of course! He’s a 27-year old “not-a-prospect” who is the last man standing at shortstop for the Buccos. They don’t really have anyone else and don’t appear interested in Stephen Drew. He’s the only thing resembling a visage of a major league-level shortstop, so the job is essentially his. The problem is that, other than NL-only leagues, he’s not really worth your time. He might hit double digit homers, but he doesn’t steal bases, produce runs or protect batting average. Mercer would be better served by platooning against lefties, but it looks like he’ll get full-time duty in Pittsburgh. Leave him on the waiver wire.
3. What about first base? It’s a two-man race between Gaby Sanchez and Chris McGuiness. Travis Ishkawa is also in camp. It’s not clear which camp he’s in, but it’s nice to hear that he found a job as a counselor after that baseball thing didn’t work out. This would be a great spot for Kendrys Morales if the Pirates actually cared, but they don’t, so they’ll likely open the season with the painfully mediocre Gaby Sanchez getting the majority of the playing time at first. Sanchez was useful for a few years when he was hitting 19 homers with run production and a non-gross batting average for the Marlins. His problem is that he’s not very good against righties. He becomes a .247/.313/.387 against right-handed pitching. McGuiness has power, but would also hit about .210 if he ever got a full-time job.
There have been a lot of rumors linking the Pirates to Ike Davis. Davis would absolutely be an upgrade over this bunch and it sounds like he’s trying to talk his way out of New York.
2. What about Francisco Liriano, he’s still awesome, right? Liriano needs to do three things to be successful. First, keep the BB/9 under 4.00. He succeeded here in 2013 with a 3.52 BB/9. It was his first year under 5.00 since 2010. He needs to keep his velocity up. His average fastball velocity was over 93 MPH last year. He gets pounded when it dips under 92 or 91 MPH. Finally, he needs to keep the ball on the ground and post a GB:FB ratio above 1.40. He was almost a 2.00 GB:FB pitcher last year. As long as he’s physically capable of producing numbers like that, he’ll be fine to have on a fantasy roster.
1. Will Gerrit Cole have a full-blown breakout, elite season this year? The odds are in his favor. Cole came up in June and immediately underwhelmed. His K/9 in his first month was an anemic 4.07. Then he started relying on his curveball more (it went from less than 10% usage in June to over 17% in September) and started getting the results that fantasy GMs would expect for a guy with a 96.1 MPH average fastball. He has all the tools of an elite level starting pitcher and there don’t appear to be any obvious red flags. He’s one of the few pitchers in baseball who has four pitches appear in plus territory on FanGraphs pitch values page. The only issue is whether or not last year’s innings bump (53 1/3 more innings in 2013 than 2012) will cause any health or endurance issue in 2014.