It\’s pretty fair to say that the Pirates have taken the role of worst team in baseball away from the Tigers and the Orioles after their disgraceful 2020. They easily had the worst record in the league, and they only had two players with a bWAR over 1.0, and one of them played in just 24 games. And to make things even worse, they sold off basically their whole team in the offseason. At this point, only one promising player exists in Pittsburgh.
Offseason additions: 3B Todd Frazier, LHP Tyler Anderson, RHP Trevor Cahill, RHP Miguel Yajure, C Michael Perez, OF Dustin Fowler, LHP Chasen Shreve, C Tony Wolters, OF Brian Goodwin, RHP Duane Underwood Jr.
Offseason subtractions: RHP Joe Musgrove, 1B Josh Bell, RHP Jameson Taillon, RHP Trevor Williams, RHP Chris Archer, RHP Nick Tropeano, LHP Derek Holland, RHP Keone Kela, C John Ryan Murphy, IF JT Riddle, IF Jose Osuna.
Trade Deadline 2020 summary
Traded: OF Jarrod Dyson.
2020 record: 19-41
2020 placement: 5th
2020 WAR leader (batter): Ke\’Bryan Hayes
2020 WAR leader (pitcher): Steven Brault
Former top pitching prospect Mitch Keller has had reverse seasons to start his career. Starting out in 2019, he had a 7.13 ERA, with a 13.5 H/9 and a 12.2 K/9, plus a great 2.76 xERA. In five starts in 2020, everything seemed to flip for Keller. In five starts, he had a great 2.91 ERA, but had a 6.6 K/9 and a 6.17 xERA. Keller allowed just nine hits in 21.2 innings, but walked 18, for a BB rate of 20.7 percent. Lefty Steven Brault had a career season, with a 3.38 ERA in 42.2 innings, while striking out 38. Brault allowed just 29 hits, for a 6.1 H/9, and also limited batters to an average exit velocity of 85.8 mph. His walk issues remained, as 12.4 percent of batters walked against Brault. After returning from Tommy John Surgery, Chad Kuhl had a 2.52 ERA through his first six games. But, some rough starts afterwards raised his season ERA to 4.27. His underlying numbers were not good, as Kuhl had a 6.70 xERA, with a 14.2 BB%, and a 13.1 barrel rate. Batters went just 2-for-28 with a 38.5 percent whiff rate against Kuhl\’s curveball. Like Kuhl, Tyler Anderson returned in 2020 after missing a lot of 2019. Anderson was on the Giants last year, and had a 4.37 ERA with 41 strikeouts in 59.2 innings, while allowing just five home runs, for a career best 0.8 HR/9. While his 15.8 strikeout percentage was bad and a career low, Anderson made up for it with an 86.8 mph average exit velocity, his best since 2017. In his first MLB season, JT Brubaker stuck out 48 batters in 47.1 innings, with a 4.42 xERA. Brubaker is a sinkerballer, but throws a fastball that got demolished last year, as batters went 9-for-20 with a .650 slugging against the pitch. If the Pirates want to go with a six-man rotation, then veteran Trevor Cahill is available. Cahill, who just turned 33, always seems to alternate between good and bad seasons. Last year was a good year for San Francisco, as Cahill had a 3.24 ERA with 31 strikeouts in 25 innings. Over the years, he has been less and less dependent on his sinker, and throwing his changeup and curveball more. The curve is a good pitch, with a 2982 rpm spin rate, and a 43.8 percent whiff rate. Batters also went 0-for-21 against it.
At the moment, the Pirates do not have a closer, but Richard Rodriguez is ready to take over. In 2020, Rodriguez had a 2.70 ERA with 34 strikeouts in 23.1 innings. He throws a high-spin fastball, and a wipeout slider. Batters went just 1-for-20 with a 63.6 percent whiff rate against the slider in 2020. Rodriguez does have his flaws, though. Batters had a 51% hard hit rate and a 91.8 mph average exit velocity against him in 2020. Kyle Crick has been productive in the past, but only pitched in seven games last year. He allowed one run in 5.2 innings, striking out seven. Crick struggled in 2019, partially thanks to a 15.5 percent walk rate. But, batters had a .177 xBA and an 86.8 mph average exit velocity against him in 52 games. A former first round pick of the Giants, Chris Stratton is an interest case of a pitcher succeeding with the Pirates, and not elsewhere. He pitched in 30 innings last year, and had a 3.90 ERA with 39 strikeouts. He has high spin rates on all of his pitches, excluding his changeup. Stratton\’s curveball had an average spin rate of 3088 rpm in 2020. An elbow injury cost Michael Feliz just about all of 2020. In the three games he did play in, Feliz allowed six runs in 1.2 innings. He was effective in 2019, striking out 73 in 56.1 innings, with a .200 xBA against. His slider had a 48.2 percent whiff rate, and a .145 xBA against. After struggling with the Rockies, lefty Sam Howard found a job with the Pirates, and struck out 27 batters in 21 innings. Howard also had a 3.86 ERA and a 3.85 xERA. His main pitch is a slider, which had a .165 xBA and a 39.4 percent whiff rate. Non-roster invitee Chasen Shreve has a good chance to make the team after he struck out 34 in 25 innings for the Mets. Shreve also had a 3.96 ERA, with a 3.40 xERA, and his split finger struck out 28 batters with a 54.4 percent whiff rate. A 29th round pick back in 2016, Geoff Hartlieb had a 3.63 ERA with 19 strikeouts in 22.1 innings last year. Unfortunately, he also walked 19 batters. Hartlieb allowed just two barrels all season, for a 3.3 barrel percentage, and he had a .316 xSLG against. 21 year old Rule-5 pick Luis Oviedo has a good chance at the roster, although he struggled in 2019, with a 5.38 ERA in 87 innings. As a 19 year old in Single-A and Low-A in 2018, Oviedo had a 2.05 ERA with 67 strikeouts in 57 innings. Acquired from New York for Jameson Taillon, Miguel Yajure allowed one run in seven innings last year, while striking out eight. Another option is Duane Underwood Jr., who was recently acquired from Chicago. Underwood struck out 27 batters but allowed 25 hits in 20.2 innings in 2020.
One of the better hitters on the Pirates last year was Jacob Stallings, who finished second on the team in WAR. The sad part is that Stallings had just a 92 OPS+. In 42 games, he hit three home runs with a .702 OPS. He had a .207 xBA, and with a 23.5 ft/s sprint speed, Stallings is one of baseball\’s slowest players. The fight to be his backup is between Michael Perez and Tony Wolters. Perez has played in 84 games over the past three years for the Rays, with a .600 OPS and a 67 OPS+. Wolters is not much better, as he had a .550 OPS last year, and a .642 OPS in his career. Wolters was a starter for the Rockies in the past, so he has the edge based off of experience.
The only point of the Pirates season right now is for Ke\’Bryan Hayes to develop, and maybe win Rookie of the Year. Hayes debuted last year, and played in 24 games, and was good enough to finish 6th in Rookie of the Year voting, despite not even using his rookie eligibility. Hayes hit five home runs with a .376 average and a 1.124 OPS. He was even great at third base defensively, with three outs above average. Of course, the sample size was very small, so Pirates fans should be a little bit cautiously optimistic towards Hayes. With Josh Bell gone and Hayes taking over his spot at third, Colin Moran will move from DH to 1B full-time. Moran was the second best Pirate hitter last year, with a team leading 10 home runs, plus a .797 OPS. He had a 91.9 mph average exit velocity, and a 47.2 hard hit percentage. The next guy to go is probably going to be Adam Frazier, who survived trade talks. Frazier had a rough 2020, as he had a career worst OPS of .661. His hard percentage also dropped to just 25.1 percent. Frazier only struck out 15.2 percent of the time, and he had seven outs above average. He normally hits about .270, but his average was just .230 last year. Kevin Newman showed that he could be an above-average shortstop in 2019, as he hit 12 home runs with 16 stolen bases, a .308 average and an .800 OPS. But all of that progress was lost in 2020, as Newman had a .556 OPS in 44 games, with an 85.3 mph average exit velocity, and a .251 wOBA. At the very least, he does not strike out, as Newman had a 12.2 percent K rate in 2020. He is fighting with Erik Gonzalez for the starting job, and the over will be the backup utility infielder. Gonzalez had a .614 OPS with just a .255 OBP last year. While Gonzalez had three outs above average between second base and shortstop, he walked just 4.1 percent of the time. Veteran Todd Frazier is on a minor league deal, but he could be the backup corner infielder. Frazier had just four home runs in 45 games last year, but he hit 21 home runs with a .772 OPS in 2019 for the Mets. So far in Spring Training, he has a 1.056 OPS.
Bryan Reynolds had a very underrated rookie season in 2019, finishing 4th in Rookie of the Year voting with a .314 average and an .880 OPS. Reynolds really fell off in 2020, as he hit .189 with a .632 OPS. He struck out over 27 percent of the time, but did walk over a tenth of the time. Reynolds had one out above average, and a decent sprint speed of 28.2 ft/s. Entering his 8th season in Pittsburgh is Gregory Polanco, who was awful in 2020. Polanco hit .153 with a .214 OBP and a .539 OBP. Polanco somehow managed to strikeout at a 37.4 percent rate. One silver lining is that he hits the ball hard, with a 92.9 mph average exit velocity, and a 51.6 hard hit percentage, the latter being a 20% increase from 2019. The center field fight is more unclear. Cole Tucker was originally a shortstop, but spent last year in the outfield. Tucker has great speed, with a 28.5 ft/s sprint speed. But in 38 games last year, Tucker had a .527 OPS. In 2019 at AAA, Tucker stole 11 bases with a .759 OPS. Another option is Anthony Alford, who was stuck in an outfield logjam for years in Toronto. Alford stole three bases in 13 games for the Blue Jays, before the Pirates claimed him off waivers. He then went 3-for-12 with a home run in five games, but then broke his elbow. Dustin Fowler can also play center. He had a .610 OPS for the A\’s in 2018, but did not play in the majors in 2019 or 2020. At AAA in 2019, Fowler hit 25 home runs with 12 stolen bases and an .810 OPS.
Yeah, you know where this is going. The Pirates are just awful. Maybe, just maybe, they can find some hidden gems in 2021 like the Orioles have done with multiple players, and even the Tigers did with Willi Castro last year. The season will not be pretty, and a last place finish is inevitable, but maybe they can have some fun?