By Zach Morrison @Zach_Morrison1 on March 11, 2014
The Pittsburgh Pirates enter the 2014 season with hopes of repeating the success of the previous year for the first time in over 20 years. To repeat that success, the Pirates will have to continue to rely on pitching and defense. In case you haven't paid attention to the offseason moves made by the Pirates, you are in luck -- the team made very few moves that will impact the Opening Day 25-man roster.
Francisco Liriano took advantage of pitching in front of a great defense as well a home park that is very friendly to southpaws. Overall, Liriano went 16-8 with a 3.02 ERA. At home, he was lights out with a 1.47 ERA. Hitters hit just .173/.249/.225 against the lefty at PNC Park. Manager Clint Hurdle has already named Liriano the Opening Day starter.
The Pirates' top prospect last season, Gerrit Cole was forced to be called-up a bit early due to a season-ending injury to Wandy Rodriguez. When he first arrived, Cole struggled to miss bats, but as the season progressed, he became a dominant strikeout pitcher. In 117.1 innings last season, Cole went 10-7 with a 3.22 ERA.
The Pirates and Charlie Morton are a great fit for each other. The team uses aggressive defensive shifts that make Morton very successful. The ground-ball pitcher missed much of the first half of the season, but he was extremely effective when he was healthy. In 116 innings, "Ground Chuck" went 7-4 with a 3.26 ERA and an impressive 62.9 ground-ball percentage.
If Wandy Rodriguez can return to his pre-injury form, he will be an incredible boost to the Pirates' rotation. Before getting injured in 2013, Rodriguez was having a very good season for the Bucs, with a 6-4 record and a 3.59 ERA. He was walking a career-best 1.72 BB/9.
The Pirates could have a great rotation in 2014, but a lot of that depends on what happens with Edinson Volquez. If pitching coach Ray Searage and the Pirates can fix Volquez and return him to his 2008 form, then all will be well. If Volquez continues to pitch horribly, the Pirates will have to move on and go with a better option like Jeff Locke or Brandon Cumpton. Personally, I think Cumpton is already the better option.
An underrated piece of the Pirates' puzzle last season, Jeanmar Gomez was very good as the long-man in relief for the team. When he was needed for a spot-start, Gomez was always ready to eat five or six innings. In total, he pitched 80.2 innings in 2013 with a 3.35 ERA and a very good 55.4 ground-ball percentage.
In 9.1 innings last season, Stolmy Pimentel was very impressive for the Bucs. He finished with a 1.93 ERA and 8.68 K/9. Pimentel is going to be another swingman option for the Pirates, as he has the ability to either start or come in the game as a reliever. Barring a trade, Pimentel is a guarantee to make the 25-man roster because he is out of minor-league options.
Another pitcher that was used to eat innings out of the bullpen, like Gomez, Vin Mazzaro ate 73.2 innings for the Pirates in 2013. He finished the season with a 2.81 ERA, and like most Pirates pitchers, he finished with a ground-ball percentage higher than 50 percent, at 52.2 percent.
One of the dominant lefties in the Pirates' bullpen, Tony Watson features a mid-90s fastball and a wipeout slider. In 2013, Watson pitched 71.2 innings with a 2.39 ERA. He had 6.78 K/9 and only 1.51 BB/9.
The other dominant lefty in the Bucs' bullpen, Justin Wilson has a fastball that can sometimes reach 100 miles per hour. Last season, Wilson pitched 73.2 innings in relief, with a 2.08 ERA. One thing he could work on for 2014 is his control, as his 3.42 BB/9 was a bit higher than the Pirates or Wilson would have liked in 2013.
The Pirates had one of the most dominant setup men in baseball last season, as Mark Melancon had a 1.39 ERA in 71 innings in 2013. He showed the ability to rack up strikeouts, with 8.87 K/9, and he showed elite command, with just 1.01 BB/9 last season.
Despite being in his late 30s, Jason Grilli had the best season of his career in 2013. The Pirates' closer picked up 33 saves last year in 50 innings. He had a 2.70 ERA with a dominant 13.32 K/9 for the Bucs.
One of the most dominant defensive catchers last year, Russell Martin showed the ability to be one of the best pitch framers in baseball. He saved 16 runs on defense in 2013. Offensively, Martin hit .226/.327/.377 with a 101 wRC+. His decent on-base percentage was a result of Martin walking in 11.5 percent of his plate appearances, one of the best walk rates on the Pirates' roster in 2013.
Thanks to him hitting 32 homers in the minor leagues last season, Andrew Lambo has re-established himself as a prospect. Due to the Pirates not signing or trading for an established left-handed hitting first baseman, Lambo is the favorite to win the job out of Spring Training. It remains to be seen if Lambo can show the power that he had in the minor leagues at the MLB level.
It's hard to understand why, but Neil Walker takes a lot of criticism from the Pirates' fan base. Other than being susceptible to injuries in recent years, Walker is a very good second baseman. Compared to other second basemen, Walker is a borderline great offensive player. In 2013, he hit .251/.339/.418 with a 114 wRC+ in 551 plate appearances. Walker had a 2.7 fWAR last season.
The National League home run leader in 2013, Pedro Alvarez finally had the breakout season that the Pirates have been waiting for. Along with his 36 home runs and 100 RBI, Alvarez showed improvements on defense at the hot corner. In 614 plate appearances, "El Toro" hit .233/.296/.473 with a 111 wRC+ last season. For Alvarez to reach his full potential, he will need to cut down on his strikeouts.
The Pirates have two different types of shortstop. Jordy Mercer is a very good offensive option at shortstop for the Pirates, while Clint Barmes is the Pirates' defensive-minded shortstop. In 365 plate appearances for the Bucs last season, Mercer hit .285/.336/.435 with a 113 wRC+. Mercer absolutely obliderates left-handed pitching, as he hit .410/.460/.692 with a 223 wRC+ against southpaws in 89 plate appearances last season.
If you are looking for a great all-around player, you've come to the right place. Starling Marte is an elite defensive outfielder with great speed and developing power. In the outfield in 2013, Marte saved 22 runs on defense and had a 10.1 UZR. Offensively, Marte hit .280/.343/.441 with a 121 wRC+ and 41 stolen bases.
The Pirates' centerfielder, Andrew McCutchen, was the best player in the National League in 2013. He has an MVP trophy to prove it. Along with his great offensive production, "Cutch" improved on the bases and in the outfield in 2013. In 674 plate appearances, McCutchen hit .317/.404/.508 with a 155 wRC+. He also added 21 home runs and 27 stolen bases. McCutchen is one of the true elite players in baseball.
After a very rough 2012 season, Jose Tabata got into shape for 2013 season and showed a much better attitude throughout the year. His efforts certainly helped his stats last season, as he hit .282/.342/.429 with a 118 wRC+ in 341 plate appearances. He will likely get the majority of the at-bats in right field until top prospect Gregory Polanco is ready to take over sometime in June or July.
Like Martin, Chris Stewart is a defensive-minded catcher. Unlike Martin, who can provide some offense, Stewart brings very little to the table at the plate. In 340 plate appearances last season, Stewart hit just .211/.293/.272 with a pathetic 58 wRC+.
The other side of the first base platoon, Gaby Sanchez is a dominat hitter when he is facing southpaws. Against lefties in 2013, Sanchez hit .333/.448/.539 with a 179 wRC+ in 126 plate appearances.
Backing up Mercer, Clint Barmes will get the occasional start against right-handed pitching and he will also come in as a late-inning defensive replacement in close games. As the Pirates' primary shortstop in 2013, Barmes saved 12 runs on defense and hit .211/.249/.309 with a 52 wRC+ in 330 plate appearances.
Injuries held Travis Snider back for much of the 2013 season, leading to a large chance for Tabata to earn back his playing time. Tabata did just that, hitting well enough to likely give him the inside-edge for a starting job in right field in 2014. In 285 plate appearances in 2013, Snider hit .215/.281/.333 with a 70 wRC+. Snider will probably begin the season as the fourth outfielder for the Bucs.
Largely due to his extreme versatility, Josh Harrison will almost definitely make the 25-man roster out of Spring Training. In 95 plate appearances between second base, third base, shortstop, left field and right field, Harrison hit .250/.290/.409 with a 95 wRC+.
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