The 2014 Pittsburgh Pirates have not been constructed with the expectation that they will contend for the World Series title. The Pirates’ front office has assembled this team, much like last year’s team, to be cost effective with minimal regard to how they actually finish. You see, they have already sucked every Pirates fan in, based on what many would consider to be a successful performance from last year. It was. They made the playoffs and actually won a few games. Good for them. They should have never been there, and here’s why.
I think we can all agree that the pitching staff is to credit for their success in 2013. As a team, the staff constructed the lowest ERA since 1984 (3.11), the best WHIP (1.23) and the lowest HR/9 ratio (0.62) since 1992. Individually, each starting pitcher over-performed.
A.J. Burnett posted a 10-11 record, a 3.30 ERA, and a WHIP of 1.21. He matched his career low ERA (2002), tied his lowest HR/9 (0.5), posted his best K/9 (9.9) and K/BB (3.12) figures, and finished with the second highest total strikeout tally (231 in 2008) of his career — all at 36 years of age. Seems fair to say he exceeded expectations, especially considering his age and salary. Sure, he was making $16.5 million, but you didn’t think the Pirates were paying that did you? Hopefully not, as the New York Yankees paid $20 million of his $33 over the two years he was with the Pirates. Safe to say the Burnett would have never been a Pirate if the Buccos had to assume the full burdened cost.
But wait. They have to be committed to building a winning team because they acquired Wandy Rodriguez at $13 million per year, right? Nope. He’d probably never have been a Pirate either without the Houston Astros paying $10.5 million of the $26 million of his 2013 and 2014 salary. Even as he’s been injured, his time in the lineup has been productive when he was healthy in 2013. Again, you could say he performed better than was to be expected.
So what about the rest of the rotation? Well, Jeff Locke was an All-Star last season. That should say enough about him, especially since he was awful the previous two seasons. Charlie Morton is another guy who exceeded projections, posting a career low ERA (3.26). Gerrit Cole was a rookie and he was arguably the Pirates’ best pitcher down the stretch. How do you not mention Francisco Liriano in this discussion as well? His 3.02 ERA in 2013 was his best since 2002. People were actually mentioning him in Cy Young discussions.
The bottom line is that the 2014 team is worse than the 2013 team in many ways. Byrd, Morneau, and Burnett are all gone, so there goes the heart of your offensive lineup and a guy that can chew up 190+ innings on the bump each season. Additionally, you are banking on all of the aforementioned players in this article (and some new ones) to continue their unsustainable success, all during the same season. Sure, it’s not impossible, but it’s unlikely. You have to count on Wandy Rodriguez remaining healthy, Edinson Volquez not stinking up the place, Pedro Alvarez hitting 30+ home runs, and the rest of the team staying healthy. Every team has similar worries, granted, but still, it’s a lot to ask for.
The Pirates, as a business, have won the 2014 season and they haven’t even played a game yet. Their pockets will be lined thoroughly and revenues and profits will be higher than ever. At the same time, costs will be down. If you are Frank Coonelly, who cares how the product performs so long as your business performs well financially. That’s all that matters really, isn’t it?
Vinny Gala is a Pittsburgh Pirates writer for Rant Sports. Follow him on Twitter @VinnyGala.