The Pittsburgh Pirates will be in the playoffs this season for the first time in a very long time. Thanks to great defense, good pitching and average offense, the Pirates are legitimate contenders. Not only are the Pirates going to the playoffs, but they are going to win the World Series, and here is why:
The Pirates have built their team based on various sabermetric statistics, mainly xFIP. Also, the Pirates have defense all over the diamond. First of all, if you’re not familiar with xFIP yet, I’ll try to familiarize you with it. xFIP is more about predicting future results for a pitcher based on his ability to limit walks, get strikeouts and induce ground balls. ERA, the more common statistic used for pitchers, just judges previous performance based on runs allowed only.
Dave Cameron wrote an excellent article at FanGraphs regarding the Pirates’ successes using sabermetrics. He uses A.J. Burnett, Francisco Liriano and Mark Melancon as examples of pitchers the Pirates signed/traded for based on xFIP. Before the Pirates traded for Burnett in the 2012 offseason, he had a 5.15 ERA with the New York Yankees in 2011. The thing the Pirates looked at wasn’t his ERA, it was actually his 3.86 xFIP. Even though he had a down year based on old school statistics, the Pirates were able to buy low on Burnett and traded for him for basically nothing.
Cameron also notes that the Pirates have started to use exaggerated defensive shifts. When a pull-happy hitter comes to the plate, instead of playing two players on the side of the field that never gets balls hit to it, the Pirates will move those defenders to the side of the infield where balls are hit more often. The Pirates have built a strong defense based mostly on defensive positioning. Also, the Pirates have told their pitchers to keep the ball down as often as possible to avoid fly balls and get more ground balls. If the infielders are in the right spots, getting ground balls is the closest way of getting success.
The Pirates haven’t just gotten good players; they have also bought into the new ways of thinking around baseball. These are strategies that some teams still haven’t bought into, and the Pirates are seeing the benefits of sabermetrics, especially in the wins column.