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Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Schoenfield: Why the Pirates are likely to decline in 2014

I didn’t want to have to write this post. After all, I didn’t have a specific rooting interest outside of my lousy hometown team, and like many fans, I fell a little bit in love with the Pittsburgh Pirates and their rise to prominence this past season after years of misery and losing. Who doesn’t enjoy a good underdog story? …

Every playoff team believes it will return the next season. Maybe it changes the roster; maybe it goes with the same group. Either way, it will be back. …

The 2013 Pirates allowed 577 runs—the third-lowest total in the National League since 2008, behind only those 2011 Phillies and the 2013 Braves. That in itself isn’t a sign of worse things to come: The 2010 Giants allowed 583 runs and then 578 in 2011; the 2012 Reds allowed 588 and then 589; the 2012 Dodgers allowed 597 runs and then 582.

But the Pirates don’t have a Clayton Kershaw on their staff. What they have are some question marks:

  Francisco Liriano: 16-8, 3.02 ERA in 161 innings. He’s always had the talent but has had injuries and control issues throughout his career. From 2009 to 2012, he posted a 4.85 ERA. He cut his walk rate from five per nine innings in 2011 and 2012 to 3.5 in 2013. Can he do that again?

  A.J. Burnett: 10-11, 3.30 ERA in 191 innings. He’s had two solid seasons in Pittsburgh but is now a free agent and still unsigned. He has said he wants to return, but the Pirates have signed Edinson Volquez as a backup plan. The same Edinson Volquez who was the worst regular starter in the majors in 2013 and hasn’t had an ERA under 4.00 since 2008.

  Jeff Locke: 10-7, 3.52 ERA in 166 innings. Locke came out of nowhere to make the All-Star team, but his low strikeout rate pointed to the possibility that his first half was a fluke. Sure enough, he had a 6.15 ERA after the All-Star break. He doesn’t have great stuff, relying heavily on a 90 mph sinking fastball. Who is the real Jeff Locke?

  Charlie Morton: 7-4, 3.26 ERA in 116 innings. The Pirates just signed him to a three-year, $21 million contract even though he’s entering his age-30 season and has never pitched more than 171 2/3 innings in a season.

  The bullpen: 30-20, 2.89 ERA, 55 saves (second in majors), 15 blown saves (fifth-fewest). The bullpen was brilliant while also throwing the fourth-most innings in the majors. The Pirates had the third-best bullpen ERA in the majors behind the Atlanta Braves and Kansas City Royals—which ranked 29th and 28th in the majors in innings. It was a remarkable season by the Pittsburgh relievers, one that will be difficult to repeat.

JE (Jason Epstein) Posted: December 17, 2013 at 12:16 PM | 25 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: pirates, regression

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   1. Barry`s_Lazy_Boy Posted: December 17, 2013 at 02:23 PM (#4619645)
Reversion to the mean.
   2. Shooty Survived the Shutdown of '14! Posted: December 17, 2013 at 02:35 PM (#4619648)
Reversion to the mean.

She is a cruel goddess.
   3. fra paolo Posted: December 17, 2013 at 02:45 PM (#4619656)
This article might have been helped if he'd checked how the teams he lists as not returning to the playoffs in the following season did in the season before their playoff appearance. Certainly there seems enough in common between the Marlins' '02 and '04 teams to suggest that without Pudge, among others, they were a .500 team.
   4. Harveys Wallbangers Posted: December 17, 2013 at 03:02 PM (#4619673)
how much of the pitching success is tied to the pitchers and how much is tied to the pirates defense?

because the Pittsburgh defense in 2013 was outstanding.

   5. RMc's desperate, often sordid world Posted: December 17, 2013 at 03:03 PM (#4619676)
Geez, the Pirates are already in their down phase...and they haven't even won anything!
   6. SoSHially Unacceptable Posted: December 17, 2013 at 03:03 PM (#4619679)
Certainly there seems enough in common between the Marlins' '02 and '04 teams to suggest that without Pudge, among others, they were a .500 team.


The Marlins didn't really gut things in 04 the way the did after the 98 title (they lost Pudge to FA and traded Lee to the Cubs), but otherwise kept things intact. And the OF was better (helped by a full year of Miggy).

   7. Hang down your head, Tom Foley Posted: December 17, 2013 at 03:08 PM (#4619683)
I blame Stan Belinda.
   8. RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: December 17, 2013 at 03:11 PM (#4619688)
But the Pirates don’t have a Clayton Kershaw on their staff.


No, but Gerrit Cole was pretty darn good, and you get a full season of him.

The Pirates are a good candidate to regress, but should still be in the hunt for at least a WC. The team has Cole and Liriano at the top of the rotation, some decent mid-tier guys in Wandy and Morton after that, and some question marks at the end in Locke, Edinson Volquez, Jeanmar Gomez, Kyle McPherson and Stoly Pimentel with Jameson Taillon ready mid-season. That's some pretty good depth so that if some of those question marks don't pan out, they have other options.
   9. fra paolo Posted: December 17, 2013 at 03:13 PM (#4619689)
The Marlins didn't really gut things in 04 the way the did after the 98 title (they lost Pudge to FA and traded Lee to the Cubs), but otherwise kept things intact.

Yes. They saved the gutting for 2006, after Delgado failed in the 'Pudge role' in 2005.

I was pleased to hear Rany and Joe, in their last podcast, finally admit that the Marlins are run exactly how sabermetrics envisions a team should be run through a success cycle. For too long they treated it as a punchbag, although many saber-influenced Strat and Diamond Mind players do exactly the same sort of thing — make a playoff run, then tank as soon as you think your team has exhausted its possibilities.
   10. this space for rent Posted: December 17, 2013 at 03:16 PM (#4619693)
I was pleased to hear Rany and Joe, in their last podcast, finally admit that the Marlins are run exactly how sabermetrics envisions a team should be run through a success cycle. For too long they treated it as a punchbag, although many saber-influenced Strat and Diamond Mind players do exactly the same sort of thing — make a playoff run, then tank as soon as you think your team has exhausted its possibilities.


The biggest difference in the Marlins' case is that it's not remotely clear that they are acting to maximize their playoff success rather than to maximize the amount of cash that flows straight from revenue sharing into Loria's bank account.
   11. Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Griffin (Vlad) Posted: December 17, 2013 at 03:17 PM (#4619694)
some question marks at the end in Locke, Edinson Volquez, Jeanmar Gomez, Kyle McPherson and Stoly Pimentel with Jameson Taillon ready mid-season.


McPherson is a free agent right now, as he was first DFA'd and then non-tendered in November. You can add Brandon Cumpton and Phil Irwin in his place, though. Potentially Casey Sadler as well, if things get truly desperate.
   12. Baldrick Posted: December 17, 2013 at 03:22 PM (#4619696)
The team has Cole and Liriano at the top of the rotation, some decent mid-tier guys in Wandy and Morton after that, and some question marks at the end

Morton is a question mark at the end, not a 'decent mid-tier' guy. He's not good enough to really be a 'mid-tier' guy just based on rate performances AND he's a huge question mark in terms of durability.

I would love to see the Pirates do well next year but I worry about their pitching. Though, if the defense really is as good as they seemed last year, it will cover a lot of holes.
   13. Shooty Survived the Shutdown of '14! Posted: December 17, 2013 at 03:22 PM (#4619697)
The Pirates are a good candidate to regress, but should still be in the hunt for at least a WC. The team has Cole and Liriano at the top of the rotation, some decent mid-tier guys in Wandy and Morton after that, and some question marks at the end in Locke, Edinson Volquez, Jeanmar Gomez, Kyle McPherson and Stoly Pimentel with Jameson Taillon ready mid-season. That's some pretty good depth so that if some of those question marks don't pan out, they have other options.

Yeah, the guys in the excerpt are probably going to regress, but that doesn't mean you can't find improvements elsewhere to compensate. The 2012 A's rode Reddick and Cespedes to a division title and they were both terrible last year but the team was just as good. I expect the Pirates to be pretty good again, just maybe not in the same way as last year.
   14. Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Griffin (Vlad) Posted: December 17, 2013 at 03:24 PM (#4619699)
Morton is a question mark at the end, not a 'decent mid-tier' guy. He's not good enough to really be a 'mid-tier' guy just based on rate performances...


He had a 3.69 xFIP last year, a 4.04 xFIP the year before that, and a 4.08 xFIP the year before that. As long as he's healthy, he's a decent mid-tier guy.
   15. fra paolo Posted: December 17, 2013 at 03:27 PM (#4619701)
The biggest difference in the Marlins' case is that it's not remotely clear that they are acting to maximize their playoff success rather than to maximize the amount of cash that flows straight from revenue sharing into Loria's bank account.

I disagree to an extent. Loria's first priority is not to lose money, but he also wants to win. He has been a better owner in that sense than David Glass or that McClatchy fellow ever was. His ideal seems to be to get his team into the Wild Card race, and hope to gain a playoff spot that way. No 'drive to 75' in Miami, unless you're a motorist.
   16. Rusty Priske Posted: December 17, 2013 at 03:58 PM (#4619737)
My faith in the Pirates waned a little bit when I saw that they had released Garrett Jones and then asked about the availability of Adam Lind.

That doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me.
   17. Baldrick Posted: December 17, 2013 at 04:26 PM (#4619772)
He had a 3.69 xFIP last year, a 4.04 xFIP the year before that, and a 4.08 xFIP the year before that. As long as he's healthy, he's a decent mid-tier guy.

Last year was the only time in his career his xFIP was below 4.00. His career rate is 4.19, and he's turning 30. If 2013 represents a genuine step forward, which can be expected to counteract the effects of aging, then he might count as a decent mid-tier guy. Maybe.

Perhaps it's splitting hairs, but I think that even at his best level of performance he's barely a 'third starter' - and is unlikely to match that level of quality again. I'll definitely take the under on him putting up an xFIP below 4.00 again in any meaningful number of innings.
   18. Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Griffin (Vlad) Posted: December 17, 2013 at 05:14 PM (#4619818)
Last year was the only time in his career his xFIP was below 4.00. His career rate is 4.19, and he's turning 30. If 2013 represents a genuine step forward, which can be expected to counteract the effects of aging, then he might count as a decent mid-tier guy. Maybe.

Perhaps it's splitting hairs, but I think that even at his best level of performance he's barely a 'third starter' - and is unlikely to match that level of quality again.


Ah, I understand. The problem is that you have too high of expectations for what a #3 starter does.

Last year, there were only 72 SP with 120+ IP and an xFIP under 4. If Morton had put up the 4.04 he posted in 2012, rather than his actual (i.e. better) 2013 figure, that'd still rank him 75th overall, right between Jake Peavy and Martin Perez.

Similarly, if you look at aggregate performance from 2011-2013, and restrict the list to SP with 300+ IP, then Morton's 3.94 xFIP in that time is 65th. If you go by actual ERA, his 3.75 moves him up to 47th.
   19. Rennie's Tenet Posted: December 17, 2013 at 05:39 PM (#4619832)
Is Wandy Rodriguez considered healthy now?
   20. PreservedFish Posted: December 17, 2013 at 05:39 PM (#4619833)
I was pleased to hear Rany and Joe, in their last podcast, finally admit that the Marlins are run exactly how sabermetrics envisions a team should be run through a success cycle.


I have two quibbles with this.

1. Nobody on earth envisions that any team should be run "exactly" like the Marlins.
2. You use the term "sabermetrics" incorrectly here, in my opinion. Sabermetrics is a neutral term for the collection of baseball knowledge, like "biology" or "physics." It does not advocate for any one team building strategy over another. You are talking about statheads and how they (or some of them) envision a team should be run.
   21. Baldrick Posted: December 17, 2013 at 05:48 PM (#4619839)
Last year, there were only 72 SP with 120+ IP and an xFIP under 4. If Morton had put up the 4.04 he posted in 2012, rather than his actual (i.e. better) 2013 figure, that'd still rank him 75th overall, right between Jake Peavy and Martin Perez.

Except that there were actually 119 such players. And Morton wasn't one of them. In his best season. So...
   22. PASTE Thinks This Trout Kid Might Be OK (Zeth) Posted: December 17, 2013 at 06:01 PM (#4619850)
I was pleased to hear Rany and Joe, in their last podcast, finally admit that the Marlins are run exactly how sabermetrics envisions a team should be run through a success cycle. For too long they treated it as a punchbag, although many saber-influenced Strat and Diamond Mind players do exactly the same sort of thing — make a playoff run, then tank as soon as you think your team has exhausted its possibilities.


Yes, but their windows of opportunity could be significantly longer if Loria were ever willing to turn loose a dime.

Morton's a #4 type but unreliable. No one knows if Wandy's going to be a contributor. Burnett looks likely to be gone (the Pirates are still acting like he's contemplating retirement but I'm pretty sure it's just that they won't pay him what he wants; I would bet that he'll pitch elsewhere in 2014). You're crazy if you're expecting 180 innings out of Liriano in 2014. Jeff Locke was terrible, and though his stats were colored heavily by the fact the Pirates ran him out there for a month after it was obvious he had nothing left, the possibility exists that he just isn't a major league pitcher.

The Pirates have a fine lineup anchored by the best player in the league, but "where is the pitching coming from?" is a legitimate question. They have an ace in Cole and a lot of uncertainty after that. I could see them winning 90 games or losing 90, depending on how the pitching goes.
   23. Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Griffin (Vlad) Posted: December 17, 2013 at 06:08 PM (#4619857)
Except that there were actually 119 such players. And Morton wasn't one of them. In his best season. So...


No, look at the link more carefully. There were 119 SP with 120+ IP. Only 72 of those had an xFIP under 4. The link is sorted by xFIP, for your convenience, so you can scroll down to Bronson Arroyo's name on the third page and see that he's the last of them. That's relevant because there are 30 teams, and as such, a typical "#3 starter" is going to be in the 61-90 range.

Morton isn't on the list because he had 116 IP. If we credit him the extra four innings at a same level of production (not much of a stretch), he'd be 47th. If we instead take a very conservative position and assume that his true-talent level of ability is his less-impressive 2012 performance, he'd be exactly where I said in #20.

Over the last three years, when Morton wasn't recovering from TJ, he's been a solid mid-rotation starter.
   24. Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Griffin (Vlad) Posted: December 17, 2013 at 06:10 PM (#4619860)
Is Wandy Rodriguez considered healthy now?


Not by me, he's not.
   25. Walt Davis Posted: December 17, 2013 at 06:22 PM (#4619866)
I'm not expecting major regression out of the Pirates actually -- I suspect the Red Sox will fall further short of their 2013 than the Pirates. I look at last year's offense and I don't see any major over-achievers. Sure Martin probably won't have a 100 OPS+ again, Mercer's probably not that good, Tabata might not hit so well, is Marte really that good of a hitter? But nothing like going from an injured Ellsbury to a 6-WAR Ellsbury to Bradley or Victorino setting a career high WAR at 32. The Pirates' rotation is not exciting but nobody there was exactly putting up unbelievable numbers. Obviously Liriano is a bit of a mystery. I'll grant the bullpen is unlikely to repeat but bullpens are pretty much a mystery to all.

Completely eyeballing it, I'll guesstimate they project to about 87 wins ... which is not 94 but nobody expects them to project to 94.

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