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Monday, March 17, 2014

Kovacevic: This has to be Year of the Bat

Just don’t expect Stewart’s Year of the Cat-cher (0-13 this spring)

Barring more bruises and welts, then, the best way – maybe the only way – for these Pirates to achieve their goal of exceeding last season’s performance is for this to be the Year of the Bat.

I’m not sure that’s possible, but I am sure of this: Each individual still has room between his head and his personal ceiling.

As Clint Barmes put it, “And I don’t think there’s a guy in here, even Cutch, who can’t improve.”

Go right through the order: Marte’s .343 OBP would move into a more acceptable leadoff range with a better eye than he showed in walking only 25 times in 510 at-bats. Russell Martin had a terrific eye but not enough solid contact with a .226 average. Andrew McCutchen was MVP, of course, but even he “didn’t have his career year just yet,” Clint Hurdle correctly observed. Pedro Alvarez’s 36 home runs drowned out his 186 strikeouts, but a drop in the latter would be welcome. Walker had a down year overall, in large part because he forgot how to hit right-handed. The right-field platoon of Jose Tabata/Travis Snider and first-base platoon of Gaby Sanchez/Andrew Lambo can do better. There’s more to be had from Jordy Mercer way down at No. 8, too.

“Oh, for sure,” Mercer said. He batted .285 with eight home runs in 333 at-bats but walked only 22 times. “I’m definitely looking to get on base more.”

Repoz Posted: March 17, 2014 at 04:50 AM | 17 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: pirates

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   1. Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Griffin (Vlad) Posted: March 17, 2014 at 07:00 AM (#4672640)
Marte's .343 OBP would move into a more acceptable leadoff range with a better eye than he showed in walking only 25 times in 510 at-bats.


NL average, batting 1st, 2013: .267/.333/.388
   2. You Know Nothing JT Snow (YR) Posted: March 17, 2014 at 07:25 AM (#4672643)
Pat Burrell is coming out of retirement?
   3. The Clarence Thomas of BBTF (scott) Posted: March 17, 2014 at 08:02 AM (#4672650)
McCutchen was about as good as you could hope for. Dude got on base at a .400 clip and hit for decent power while playing very good defense. The only thing he could stand to improve on is his SB/CS rate. Otherwise he's an exceptional performer at just about every aspect of the game. Anything more just takes him from superstar to super-duper star.
   4. PASTE Thinks This Trout Kid Might Be OK (Zeth) Posted: March 17, 2014 at 08:37 AM (#4672653)
Yeah, this is the problem I see with the Pirates this year: The roster is nearly identical to last year's except without A.J. Burnett, and last year's roster had several overachievers unlikely to repeat their 2013 performances, much less improve on them (Marte, Alvarez, Martin, Liriano, the bullpen in general). There's little risk of collapse, but a slight regression to the mean is likely--from their pythag of 88 wins, not their actual total of 94.

But it's not impossible to imagine them holding the line or improving. McCutchen is 27 and could turn in a monster 8-9 win season; Liriano could be healthy for two straight years for the first time in his life; Cole could turn in a Cy Young season; there might be a surprising improvement from one or two of the young guys like Mercer or Lambo or a random career year from one of the older guys like Tabata or Sanchez. You only need a couple of those things to happen for the Pirates to stay in the high 80s or better.

And if the Pirates end up around .500 this year, that's fine, because there's more help on the way, making its way through the system. The 2015 Pirates have a chance to be very good (they're going to need a catcher, though, and I don't think Tony Sanchez is it, nor does it appear the Pirates think so).

As someone--I think it was Pat Lackey at WHYGAVS--observed last year, the great thing about the modern Pirates is that, for the first time in decades, they're an or team rather than an and team. For years writers of Pirates' season previews, trying to be optimistic, would write "if this unlikely thing happens and this unlikely thing happens and this unlikely thing happens and ... the Pirates might be good." Now all those ands are ors.
   5. JE (Jason Epstein) Posted: March 17, 2014 at 10:02 AM (#4672683)
It's a lot more pleasant to read Kovacevic's columns that don't bash the front office.
   6. MikeTorrez Posted: March 17, 2014 at 10:25 AM (#4672696)
Also nice to see Kovacevic writing about something other than how there needs to be salary cap. It's a tired argument and his reasoning doesn't add up.
   7. Howie B. Posted: March 17, 2014 at 12:20 PM (#4672784)
surprising improvement from one or two of the young guys like Mercer or Lambo or a random career year from one of the older guys like Tabata or Sanchez
The 25 year old Tabata who is two years younger than Mercer and literally one day younger than Lambo? It only feels like he's been around a while.
   8. PASTE Thinks This Trout Kid Might Be OK (Zeth) Posted: March 17, 2014 at 12:48 PM (#4672803)
Yeah, sorry, I've been assuming since his days with the Yankees he's three years older than listed.

It is true that Mercer isn't very young and is unlikely to improve much, you have me there. He should be in the "maybe he'll have a career year at 27" category.
   9. Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Griffin (Vlad) Posted: March 17, 2014 at 01:15 PM (#4672839)
Yeah, sorry, I've been assuming since his days with the Yankees he's three years older than listed.


Why would you do that? He's passed his visa check three or four times since then - if he were lying about his age, he probably would have been caught by now. He's also Venezuelan, and they tend to be much less prone to falsification of paperwork than Dominicans.
   10. Russ Posted: March 17, 2014 at 03:48 PM (#4672984)
As someone--I think it was Pat Lackey at WHYGAVS--observed last year, the great thing about the modern Pirates is that, for the first time in decades, they're an or team rather than an and team. For years writers of Pirates' season previews, trying to be optimistic, would write "if this unlikely thing happens and this unlikely thing happens and this unlikely thing happens and ... the Pirates might be good." Now all those ands are or


Although I don't have a blog, I've been saying this for several years (before the Pirates were good and after). The old Pirates always need this thing to happen AND this thing AND this thing AND this thing. That's what we would tell ourselves every spring and then by May, we'd be screwed because at least one of the things that needed to happen didn't happen and that was that. Now we just need this OR this OR this to work out and the outfield will be fine (Tabata OR Snider OR Polanco have to be OK in RF, 2 out of 4 starters have to be not terrible behind Liriano and Cole [Morton, Locke, Volquez, Rodriguez).

The biggest problems the Pirates would have would be injuries to any of the big four (Cutch, Cole, Liriano, Alvarez) or for Melancon AND Grilli to go down with an injury, destabilizing the bullpen. I'm worried about Mercer's defence at short. These seem to be the biggest question marks, as even the spots without clear starters (RF, 1b) seem to be full of perfectly cromulent options.

Obviously, there's a lot of room for upside as well, who knows what Polanco could add to the OF, Taillon, Kingham or even Glasnow could be throwing bullets come July, maybe the defence keeps all of the starters ERA's low and the bullpen fresh.

So pumped up for the start of the season.
   11. I Helped Patrick McGoohan Escape Posted: March 17, 2014 at 03:52 PM (#4672988)
Just don’t expect Stewart’s Year of the Cat-cher (0-13 this spring)


But with instant replay are we one year closer to umps becoming Parson's I, Robot?


My goodness that was more of a stretch than I first imagined.
   12. Walt Davis Posted: March 17, 2014 at 04:20 PM (#4673002)
Take a deep breath ...

Mercer, looking like a AAAA guy, steps in and puts up a 118 OPS+ and 2 WAR in just over half a season of PAs ... and folks are hoping for more?

Note, it's fine to hope for "improvement" as long as it's recognized that it's improvement from a realistic baseline. So sure, Mercer might improve his batting eye -- i.e. an improvement in his true talent -- but also need to recognize that his ML BA and ISO were 10-15 points higher than his AAA BA and ISO and that's unlikely to happen again. Even with an improved walk rate, he probably only projects to something like 265/330/380 -- ZiPS has him substantially worse but retaining more power.

Similar with Martin's BA and probably Marte's walks -- those would all be good changes but good changes from a baseline that's probably a good bit below last year's performance. I would guess there's not a single Pirates hitter who projects better in 2014 than they performed in 2013 although I haven't checked.

Not down on the Pirates -- they're a much better team than my Cubs -- just being a downer. :-)
   13. Sunday silence Posted: March 17, 2014 at 04:21 PM (#4673003)
one thing I've noticed that there seems to be a correlation between Def efficiency and doing better than your pythagoras. Certainly not linear, maybe not even 0.7 but there are some interesting correlations there.
   14. Mike Emeigh Posted: March 17, 2014 at 04:34 PM (#4673013)
one thing I've noticed that there seems to be a correlation between Def efficiency and doing better than your pythagoras.


which I can use as an entree to point everyone to this SABR-award winning piece by James Santelli.

-- MWE
   15. PASTE Thinks This Trout Kid Might Be OK (Zeth) Posted: March 17, 2014 at 04:57 PM (#4673024)
Walt: I don't think anyone expects much out of Mercer and the Pirates will be happy with mere semi-competence. I was observing merely that once in a while a marginal player has a career year and it usually happens around 27.

I know the Pirates have been talking like Mercer is their starter at short, but I'll believe it when I see it--I expect to see more of Barmes than Mercer whenever they're both healthy. The Pirates love them some defense.
   16. Moeball Posted: March 17, 2014 at 07:15 PM (#4673098)
I do not wish to rain on the Pirates' parade and I honestly hope they do well for the next several years.

That said, however, I looked at their team stats last year - seriously, they only scored 634 runs - not even 4 runs/game? I also noticed that they significantly outperformed their Pythagoran numbers, too, indicating a high possibility of regression back down this year.

I don't think they can expect McCutchen to play much better than he already has - he's been carrying a very weak lineup for a while now. More to the point, they shouldn't base their expectations on having to get better performance from him - they need to fill some serious gaping holes in other lineup slots. They got a 58 OPS+ from Barmes last season? That's completely inexcusable - this isn't the 1960s any more - shortstops should be expected to hit in today's game. Their starting right fielder gave them a 75 OPS+ - for a corner outfielder, that's so bad he shouldn't get a roster spot.
   17. PASTE Thinks This Trout Kid Might Be OK (Zeth) Posted: March 17, 2014 at 07:33 PM (#4673104)
Pretty much agree, Moeball. Help is coming, particularly in the form of Gregory Polanco and Jameson Taillon, but what the team really needs to locate is a first baseman who can rake. The system will not be producing that anytime soon, and that's a problem.

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