The Pittsburgh Pirates are still chasing the elusive .500 mark for the first time since 1992. They had appeared primed for playoff runs each of the past two seasons only to fall off late in the season. Pittsburgh has made progress as a franchise, transforming from a perennial last place team to a playoff contender. With a few recent additions, 2013 may be the season that Pittsburgh finally pushes over the top. There are several Pirates that should be represented on fantasy baseball teams in the upcoming season.
The biggest reason why Pittsburgh has surfaced as a threat in the NL Central is centerfielder, Andrew McCutchen. McCutchen is regarded among the top players in the game but it’s sometimes forgotten just how good he is. After two all-star caliber seasons, McCutchen finished third in the MVP voting while also receiving a gold glove and silver slugger award. He truly did it all for Pittsburgh in 2012, hitting .327 with 31 homers and stealing 20 bases. When you have someone that reaches base 40% of the time and is among the league leaders in home runs, it goes a long way toward taking pressure off the rest of the lineup.
Despite tremendous contributions from McCutchen, Pittsburgh still managed to finish 23rd in the league in runs and 25th in batting average. The addition of Russell Martin to a stagnant catcher position should help alleviate some of the hitting troubles and also present a leader to a young lineup.
Martin may not provide a major boost to the team batting average which was a major struggle for Pittsburgh in 2012. Aside from McCutchen, nobody else in the lineup was able to crack .280. While they labored to reach base as a unit, Pittsburgh had no such trouble hitting the ball out of the park.
If Sterling Marte can learn to effectively work counts and draw walks as a full-time lead-off hitter then Pittsburgh should have less trouble scoring runs. Second baseman and number two hitter, Neil Walker, achieved a respectable .342 OBP last season. If the top of the Pittsburgh lineup can get on base at a higher clip then the power from the rest of the lineup will be better served.
The Pittsburgh starting rotation lacks a standout performer but is full of capable arms. A.J. Burnett bounced back from several erratic seasons with 16 wins and a 3.51 ERA in his first season with the Pirates. The most encouraging sign from Burnett was that he was finally consistent with his control. He walked just 62 batters in 202 innings.
Pittsburgh acquired southpaw Wandy Rodriguez at the deadline and he continued to post the stellar numbers that he has come to be expected of. Rodriguez slots in as the number two starter, while James McDonald occupies the third spot. McDonald was lights out over the first half of the 2012 season, pitching to a 2.37 ERA, only to blow up with a 7.52 ERA the rest of the way. He has proven that he has the ability, it just remains to be seen whether or not it can translate over the course of an entire season.
Pittsburgh’s top five fantasy hitters: 1. Andrew McCutchen, 2. Neil Walker, 3. Pedro Alvarez, 4. Garrett Jones, 5. Sterling Marte
Pittsburgh’s top three fantasy pitchers: 1. Wandy Rodriguez, 2. A.J. Burnett, 3. James McDonald.
Pittsburgh projected record: 84-78
Stay tuned over the next month while I preview one team each day in preparation for the 2013 baseball season.