Predicting the Pittsburgh Pirates’ 2014 Opening Day Lineup
Predicting the Opening Day Lineup for 2014 Pittsburgh Pirates
Spring Training games for the Pittsburgh Pirates start in just two days, with their first game coming on Wednesday against the New York Yankees. The Pirates did very little to upgrade their roster over the offseason, but there is still a chance for the roster to end up being better anyway due to improvements from younger players. The start of Spring Training means Opening Day is getting closer and closer as each day passes, and the Opening Day roster is always something fun to discuss.
Last year's Opening Day lineup looked a lot different than it will this season. For instance, Garrett Jones batted second and played right field, but he is no longer a Pirate. Clint Barmes started at shortstop and batted eighth, but the Pirates re-signed him to presumably be the backup to Jordy Mercer. Oh, and one must not forget the Opening Day starter will change this season too. A.J. Burnett started the first game last season, but manager Clint Hurdle has designated lefty Francisco Liriano as the Opening Day starter for 2014.
Over the offseason, the Pirates made a few moves, but most were fairly insignificant. They traded for backup catcher Chris Stewart from the Yankees, they signed Edinson Volquez, they traded for a Jaff Decker and Chris McGuiness and they claimed Brent Morel from the Toronto Blue Jays. None of these players will have a real impact on the Opening Day lineup, but they certainly give the Pirates some more depth.
No one could have guessed what 2013's Opening Day lineup would have looked like, mostly because of Jones hitting second, but the 2014 lineup seems to be a bit easier to predict -- at least at this point. Time for me to give my best shot at predicting the lineup for Opening Day 2014. Keep in mind the Pirates will be facing a right-handed pitcher, Jeff Samardzija, so the lineup will be based on that.
1. Left Fielder Starling Marte
The best defensive left fielder in baseball, Starling Marte brings great range and a cannon arm. Along with great defense, Marte brings some nice lumber to the Pirates' lineup. In 2013, Marte hit .280/.343/.441 with a 121 wRC+ in 566 plate appearances. He put up a very impressive 4.6 fWAR as well.
He doesn't walk enough to be the ideal leadoff hitter, but he is currently the Pirates' best option. His 41 steals and 7.2 base running runs above average are very valuable at the top of the lineup.
2. Second Baseman Neil Walker
Personally, I would hit Andrew McCutchen second, but that would be a bit too unconventional for Hurdle to try. Neil Walker is a nice option as well. He isn't a great offensive player, but he fits nicely as a contact hitter with good on-base skills. Walker hit .251/.339/.418 with a 114 wRC+ in 2013. He walked in 9.1 percent of his plate appearances, one of the best walk rates on the Pirates' roster.
I would love to see a platoon at second base between Walker and Jordy Mercer, with Barmes playing shortstop on the days that Mercer starts at second. Walker can't hit lefties and Mercer crushes them. It makes too much sense to not happen.
3. Center Fielder and MVP Andrew McCutchen
Like I said, McCutchen would be my second hitter, but I have to predict what I think Hurdle will do. Cutch hit .317/.404/.508 with a 155 wRC+ to go with 21 home runs and 27 stolen bases in 2013. McCutchen was great on the bases, at the plate and on defense last season, leading to a National League leading 8.2 fWAR.
4. Third Baseman Pedro Alvarez
Power is much harder to find in baseball these days, so having a true power hitter is extremely important. Pedro Alvarez is a true power hitter. Last season, Alvarez hit .233/.296/.473 with 36 home runs. His average and on-base percentages are never going to be great, or even good most likely. However, the 36 home runs need to be in the lineup.
5. Catcher Russell Martin
The bottom of the Pirates' lineup against right-handed pitching isn't going to look very pretty due to the team not having a great left-handed hitting first baseman. The fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth spots could easily all be wrong, I'll be honest. Russell Martin hit fifth a lot in 2013, so I'm comfortable guessing he will start the season hitting fifth. Last season, Martin hit .226/.327/.377 with a 101 wRC+. His greatest value comes from him walking in 11.5 percent of his plate appearances and his great defense he provides from behind the plate.
6. First Baseman Andrew Lambo
Barring a trade for Ike Davis or Justin Smoak or a Kendrys Morales signing, it looks like the Pirates will roll with Andrew Lambo as their left-handed first baseman. Lambo has very little experience at first base, but he is focusing on learning the position at Spring Training. He spent most of the 2013 season in the minor leagues, hitting 32 home runs in the process.
7. Right Fielder Jose Tabata
Until top prospect Gregory Polanco is ready, it looks like Jose Tabata and Travis Snider will share time in right field. I think Tabata will get the majority of the playing time to begin the year with Snider likely needing to earn playing time from off the bench. Tabata was sneaky-good in 2013, hitting .282/.342/.429 with a 118 wRC+ in 341 plate appearances. He doesn't hit many home runs and he doesn't steal bases, but he does bring a steady contact hitter to the lineup.
8. Shortstop Jordy Mercer
As I previously mentioned, I would love to see a middle-infield platoon with Mercer and Barmes starting against lefties and Barmes and Walker starting against right-handed pitchers. I doubt the Pirates will do that since they are already platooning at first base. Mercer crushes left-handed pitching, but he isn't nearly as effective against right-handers. Overall, Mercer hit .285/.336/.435 with a 113 wRC+ in 2013.
9. Left-Handed Starting Pitcher Francisco Liriano
Fine, I'll humor you all by giving you Francisco Liriano's hitting stats from last season. I'll even try to take it seriously. The lefty pitcher hit .064/.137/.064 with a -44 wRC+ in 56 plate appearances in 2013. He actually walked in 7.1 percent of his plate appearances, but they usually resulted from him simply having no interest in swinging and the opposing pitcher being unable to throw strikes.