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Purely Positive Pittsburgh Pirates Piece


With so much negative in the world, let’s focus on the positives in Pirateland. Here’s a couple on my radar.

2 WAR starting pitchers

When I started writing this article I pulled up the Fangraphs data on our Pittsburgh Pirates pitchers and, just like I expected, the starting five have pretty decent numbers. It looks like we’ll have ALL five members of our starting rotation have 2.0 WAR seasons.

You ask when is the last time we had five starting pitchers amass 2.0 WAR each? I’ll give you a hint Van Halen released an album that year: 1984!

Name W L SV G GS IP WAR WAR per IP (x100)
1 Rick Rhoden 14 9 0 33 33 238.1 4.3 1.81
2 John Candelaria 12 11 2 33 28 185.1 3.3 1.78
3 Larry McWilliams 12 11 1 34 32 227.1 2.9 1.28
4 Jose DeLeon 7 13 0 30 28 192.1 2.9 1.51
5 John Tudor 12 11 0 32 32 212.0 2.5 1.18
6 Don Robinson 5 6 10 51 1 122.0 2.0 1.64
7 Rod Scurry 5 6 4 43 0 46.1 1.1 2.39
1 Gerrit Cole 11 8 0 27 27 167.0 2.3 1.38
2 Jameson Taillon 7 5 0 20 20 106.0 2.2 2.08
3 Chad Kuhl 6 9 0 26 26 129.1 1.8 1.39
4 Felipe Rivero 4 2 16 62 0 64.2 1.8 2.80
5 Ivan Nova 11 11 0 26 26 165.2 1.7 1.03
6 Trevor Williams 5 6 0 26 20 122.2 1.7 1.39
7 Juan Nicasio 2 5 2 65 0 60.0 1.1 1.83

First, I must add that there were three seasons since 1984 that Pirates had ZERO starting pitchers with 2.0 WAR: 1994, 2010, and 2011. Having all five pitchers produce years like this is very good because of the trickle down affect in the organization. There are very few pitchers that are their best selves at 25. Many have their best seasons in their late 20s. Having five starting pitchers do this well as a group allows the whole system to grow a year and will only prove dividends in a couple years.

I also included WAR per IP to give you a level of the pitchers’ value relative to each other. Taillon is the class of the group, then a gap to Trevor Williams. Rick Rhoden and the Candyman would have slotted nicely into our rotation and Scurry could have helped Nicasio set up “Flip” Rivero.

New CBA gives us an advantage

One of the holes we never dipped into over the last few years was the “Free Agents that would lose us a draft pick”. They used to be Type A or Type B free agents, or ones that were extended a qualifying offer and rejected it, but not if you have a protected pick, etc.

Now they’ve made it pretty simple: if you receive revenue sharing dollars you lose a 3rd round draft pick instead of a first round pick for signing a Qualifying Offer rejecting free agent. That’s a really big change.

Over the last few years there were free agents the Pirates probably wanted to sign BUT it would have costed the Pirates these guys:

Year Overall pick Name Position Pirates prospect rating
2017 12 Shane Baz RHP 3
2016 22 Will Craig 3B 8
2015 19 Kevin Newman SS 5
2015 32 Ke’Bryan Hayes 3B 6
2014 24 Cole Tucker SS 4

Instead of these guys:

Year Overall pick Name Position Pirates prospect rating
2017 88 Dylan Busby 3B NR
2016 105 Stephen Alemais SS 22
2015 96 Casey Hughston LF NR
2014 100 Jordan Luplow RF 21

You can see the quality you give up in the first round versus the third round. There might not be as many good free agents that hit the market but the cost in prospects is MUCH lower than it used to be for the lower revenue teams.

Good positional players on the cusp

Two young position players are doing well in AAA this year. No, it isn’t Austin Meadows and Kevin Newman. It’s Jordan Luplow and Max Moroff. Newman is doing fine after the promotion from AA and Meadows will be fine once he gets healthy, but Moroff and Luplow are the real story. Both guys are young for their draft class and the age difference is finally playing out. Instead of being good with a bunch of players a year or two older, they’ve reached the top minor league level and have broken out.

Name Team Age PA wRC+
Jake Cave Yankees (AAA) 24 270 168
Ronald Acuna Braves (AAA) 19 206 167
Rhys Hoskins Phillies (AAA) 24 475 167
Yandy Diaz Indians (AAA) 25 374 163
Mitch Garver Twins (AAA) 26 372 159
Jordan Luplow Pirates (AAA) 23 182 156
Ji-Man Choi Yankees (AAA) 26 316 155
Max Moroff Pirates (AAA) 24 228 153

While we’re talking about Pittsburgh Pirates minor league position players, it’s worth mentioning some others that have caught the statisticians eye. Carson Cistulli, Fangraphs editor and researcher, is known to analyze prospects that are off the radar. He’s recently spent time looking at the Pirates’ infield prospects and came up with a guess on their career WAR levels. I must state that Cistulli knows what a 6 WAR or 12 WAR player means and isn’t just pulling numbers out of the air. I’ve listed his guesses below and gave you a Pirate example with a similar career WAR number:

Name Current Level 2017 Age Cistulli WAR guess Pirate WAR comp
Cole Tucker AA 20 15 Neil Walker, Jason Bay
Kevin Newman AAA 23 12 Jack Wilson, Freddy Sanchez
Kevin Kramer AA 23 12 Jeff King, Josh Harrison
Pablo Reyes AA 23 6 Kevin Young

If these guys combine for 45 WAR we are sitting pretty.

About Michael Bradley (62 Articles)
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.
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