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Pirates’ Forecasted Runs Differential Made Difference In Pitching Plan

You have to think of baseball in the terms of a 162 game season. If you’re not thinking about it that way trying to analyze the 2017 Pirates would make no sense. I think I’ve finally made some sense of the 2017 season and normally that comes by looking at numbers. This was no different tonight.

I know a lot of numbers with regards to baseball and the Pirates, but if you asked me to guess the runs scored and runs allowed runs differential for the Pirates in given year I wouldn’t get within 50 of the answer. Regardless, I knew last year they had a decent hitting year but a bad pitching year.

Here’s the five year runs scored and runs allowed totals.

Pirates Runs Scored Pirates Runs Allowed
2017 668* 740*
2016 729 758
2015 697 596
2014 682 631
2013 634 577
2012 651 674

It’s not surprising that our 98 win season in 2015 had a low number with 596 runs allowed and the 697 runs scored that year were not the highest, but they were enough to win a lot. That’s the formula for making the playoffs — a large runs differential.

Last year’s 729/758 told a story of good offense but miserable starting pitching. You can see why Neal Huntington tried the rotation band aid of Niese, added Nicasio to a “strong” bullpen and threw the young starter kitchen sink at the 2016 season because those 729 runs scored were wasted on a terrible pitching staff.

That leads us to 2017 and the projected 668/740. The 668 runs scored is not a surprise, but I think this tells us a little bit about the 740 allowed as well. That’s the point of this article: the low run scoring potential led to the youth movement in the 2017 pitching staff.

Joyce had a .401 OBP and .221 ISO last year in 293 plate appearances. Impossible to replace.

If you told me to guess our 2017 run scored total in November I would have guessed 700. This was because we lost “superstar” Matt Joyce, and his amazing 2017 numbers. I also wasn’t confident about McCutchen or Polanco and I knew Meadows would be, at best, a half season player.

If you’d have asked me to guess in January after the Kang news broke, I would have slashed 20 runs off the 700 and guessed 680. This coupled with the Marte suspension led me to assume a MUCH lower runs scored total than we had in 2016. So what does that tell us?

I think the loss of Kang made a playoff caliber runs differential of 60-100 runs impossible because we couldn’t acquire enough pitching to get us down to the 600ish mark. But this made some easy decisions with several of the pitching moves.

Giving the young starters a chance

The first thing that the sour offensive outlook provided was an opportunity to go with the “kids” in the rotation.

With Steven Brault, Trevor Williams, Chad Kuhl, and Tyler Glasnow all having excellent 2016’s in the minors and making their debuts in the Majors, the thought was they were on the cusp of being in the ML rotation. But in reality if we had the offensive potential to score the 700+ runs this year NONE of these guys would have been in the 2017 rotation.

If you’re planning on having a playoff caliber pitching staff you would have had the “kids” in the AAA rotation or in the ML bullpen. A playoff run is where you would have seen 1) the Quintana trade 2) the Nova signing AND 3) a 1 year Free Agent flyer (Doug Fister, Bud Norris, etc) for a rotation stacking of something like this:

ML – Quintana, Cole, Taillon, Nova and FA AAA – Glasnow, Kingham, Kuhl, Williams, Brault

Remember a) we had 72 starts last year from Locke, Liriano, Niese and Vogelsong and b) Brault, Williams, Glasnow hadn’t done well in the majors in 2016. We needed A LOT of starting pitching and relying on the kids isn’t the best idea for a playoff team. Remember we dropped a lot from the 596 runs allowed in 2015 to the 758 runs in 2016. This wasn’t something we could just band aid and have a great runs differential.

With the “pressure off” of having a sure playoff contender, add in the preseason Cubs World Series hype, and Huntington could easily go with a youth centered rotation with Taillon, Kuhl, Glasnow/Williams and chalk it up to an “evaluation” year with the hopes of being competitive.

No go on Quintana

There is a chance that Neal Huntington liked Jose Quintana as much as anyone. There’s a chance he knew that Quintana was what he needed to really win the division. I think after Kang was suspended he decided that a trade wouldn’t get him close enough and he didn’t want to gut the farm system to finish 3rd in the division.

What would the Red Sox have done

Let’s pretend that the 2017 Pirates had Kang/Marte, the hope for good McCutchen and Harrison was still there AND had the payroll of the Boston Red Sox. How would they have set up the pitching staff?

Well, I think the rotation would have been as stated before: Quintana, Cole, Taillon, Nova and FA

How about the bullpen? I think this would have been very different too. I think the Flip, Watson, Nicasio, Hudson quadfecta would have still been around but I think Kuhl, Williams and/or Glasnow would have been involved too. They could have brought Hughes back as well. How about something like this:

Closer Rivero
RP Nicasio
RP Kuhl
RP Williams
RP Watson
RP Hudson
RP LeBlanc
RP Hughes

That’s some hard throwing, groundball inducing stuff there and I think the group would have fed off each other. LeBlanc and Watson would have been more a LOOGY’s instead of high leverage guys and i think Williams and Kuhl would have been amazing. Now realize that we wouldn’t have Willams and Kuhl as starters anymore…but that’s the cost of doing business.

2018 Foreshadowing

I think this article could be a good primer to the 2018 season. If the Pirates add two bats to the starting lineup they could be in that 700+ run arena. Jung-ho Kang could be one of these bats. If he looks like a possible return candidate I wouldn’t be surprised if the Pirates add a name bat in free agency. The Pirates won’t be counting on Polanco or Adam Frazier as starters in 2018, you can bet on that.

If the Pirates do add to the offense, I think they’ll shore up the rotation with an addition and kick someone to the bullpen. This in addition to some luck could get them back to the positive runs differential to make a run towards the playoffs in 2018.

Michael is a Pirates contributor to The Point of Pittsburgh. Michael is former submarine officer and Naval Academy grad. He now runs a small consulting firm and does veteran related job fairs. He is a SABR member and regularly attends Altoona Curve games to scout the Pirate prospects.

2 Comments on Pirates’ Forecasted Runs Differential Made Difference In Pitching Plan

  1. To the best of my knowledge Kang has yet to be suspended. He just can’t get into the country. Or am I missing something there?

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