Despite that, they sit 9-4 and lead the NL Central by 2.5 games going into the weekend action. Some thoughts. Obviously, everything comes with the SSS caveat:So the #Pirates just had a situation where defensively they were facing the bases loaded with one out. The batter made an out. The other team scored 3 runs. I need @jaysonst or @EliasSports to tell me the last time that happened.— David Todd (@DTonPirates) April 14, 2018
You couldn't ask for a better start. The Pirates lead the NL in runs, batting average, on base percentage, slugging, wRC+, and strikeout rate. They are third in home runs and fifth in walk rate. It's been a good two weeks.
1.) Gregory Polanco is never going to be a good fielder. I doubt he'll ever be more than an average baserunner--and he'll have to improve to even be that. But, there is a chance Polanco will develop into a very good hitter and this hot start has Pirates fans hoping once again that he'll fulfill his potential. We've seen good stretches from him before:
Can he do it for an entire season? While the early season power has been impressive--Polanco already has five home runs and leads all of baseball with 15 RBI--more significant may be his improved walk rate. Polanco came into the season with an 8.4% walk rate for his career. This year it stands at 15.8% in the early going. If Polanco can continue to manage the strike zone, his O-swing% is at a career low, and stay healthy, maybe this will be the long-awaited breakout season.You might forget how good Gregory Polanco was the first half of 2016. From start of season until July 4:— David Todd (@DTonPirates) April 10, 2018
330 PA, 286 AB; .297/.374/.521
.895 OPS; 12 HR, 50 RBI, 38 BB.
Rest of the season?
257 PA, 241 AB; .212/.257/.394
.651 OPS; 10 HR, 36 RBI, 15 BB.
2.) While Polanco has gotten much of the national attention during the Pirates hot start, Corey Dickerson may be an even better story. On February 21, Adam Frazier was scheduled to be the Pirates starting left fielder and the Bucs were in the process of also throwing Daniel Nava, Bryce Brentz and Michael Saunders against the left field wall to see if anything stuck. It didn't seem like a great plan. And then Neal Huntington pulled off what might be one of the best deals of his tenure. The Tampa Rays traded Dickerson, who they had designated for assignment, to the Pirates for underachieving reliever Daniel Hudson.
The Pirates got their starting left fielder at a cost of $500,000. Dickerson has been outstanding thus far. He leads the NL in bWAR by a full 0.5 margin, checking in at 1.5 while no other player is above 1.0. With Andrew McCutchen off to a slow start, it well may turn out the Bucs upgraded going from Cutch to Dickerson.Honestly, I’m in a bit of shock. I’m wondering what the heck the Rays were thinking. Salary push to get your starting LFer for a middle reliever? Season starts March 29. Offseason just got better. #Pirates— David Todd (@DTonPirates) February 22, 2018
3.) The Pirates other offseason addition has been almost as good. Colin Moran introduced himself to the home fans with a grand slam in his first AB at PNC Park and he hasn't slowed since. Through his first 40 PA he has five walks against six strikeouts. Like Dickerson he looks to have a very good approach and that may take a little bit of the sting out of the dominance that we are seeing in the early going from Gerrit Cole.
4.) In 2016 Francisco Cervelli was last in all of MLB among players with 300 PA in ISO*. Last year wasn't much better. But Cervelli is off to a great start this season, hitting his second HR on Thursday (he only hit five all of last year) and knocking in his 11th run. Cervelli isn't going to stay this hot, but if he can stay healthy and put up numbers similar to 2015, that would be a huge boost.
ISO = SLG - Batting Average
Starting Pitching: B-
5.) The Pirates starters have been more or less as expected. They are seventh in the NL in ERA at 3.62, best in the Central division. They've done a good job of keeping the ball in the stadium, ranking fifth in HR/9 and third in HR/FB%. They haven't walked many, but they also haven't struck out many.
6.) Jameson Taillon, who gets start number three Saturday night, has been outstanding the first two times out, already registering a complete game shutout. For the Pirates to have any hope of contending, Taillon is going to have to continue this all season long. A 0.488 WHIP isn't sustainable, but a 1.3 BB/9 and a 10.0 K/9 might be.
7.) Trevor Williams doesn't have the best stuff on the staff, but he definitely knows how to pitch. I was surprised Williams made the opening day roster last year. I was surprised he was moved into the rotation mid-season and stayed there all year. And I'm surprised he's 3-0 with a 1.56 ERA to start this season. Seven walks and 10 strikeouts over 17.1 innings isn't very impressive and his FIP of 3.83 suggests this is an aberration. We'll see.
Relief Pitching: D
8.) I don't think there is better value/$$ as a reliever than Felipe Rivero/Vasquez. His opening day blowup means it going to be awhile before his ERA gets back near the 1.67 we saw last year, but make no mistake, he's a superstar.
9.) The rest of the group has been more or less of a disaster. The Pirates made another roster move today and it looks like they will have turned over three of the eight bullpen spots by the end of the weekend. Michael Feliz and George Kontos have been serviceable as seventh and eighth inning guys, but the Pirates need someone else to step up. Edgar Santana and Tyler Glasnow both have potentially dominating stuff, but neither has been able to harness it effectively so far.
10.) The big question is when Joe Musgrove is healthy does he go into the rotation as originally planned or do they put him in the bullpen where he was very effective for the Astros last year? He and A.J. Schugel can't get healthy fast enough.
Defense/Base Running: C-
11.) Defense and base running continue to be issues. The Pirates rank 24th in defensive efficiency after finishing 27th last year and rank 19th here and 23rd here.
12.) The big surprise? Corey Dickerson, not known for his defense, leads all of baseball with six defensive runs saved. Now if the rest of the guys would just follow suit.