Pirates Morning Report: 29 Games In

Every 30 games or so, I will take an overall look at the Pirates to see how they are doing. In this day of analytics, you could try and breakdown every little thing the Pirates do, but in my opinion, it boils down to some basic things on offense, defense and pitching. On offense, it is how often you get on base (On Base Percentage OBP), how you convert that into runs, and how you compare with the rest of the league when all things are taken into account, OPS+. OPS+ is a number with the league average being 100. Pitching boils down to preventing runs, how well you control what a pitcher can control, home runs strikeouts, and walks. This is known as Fielding Independent Pitching, FIP. I use Baseball Reference’s Defense Efficiency Rating for evaluating a team’s defense. There are others and you can argue the merits of all the sites defensive ratings, but this isn’t life changing here, so I will go with them. Let’s see how the Pirates are doing, obviously quite well.

Offense: The Pirates are 3rd in baseball in getting on base with an OBP of .343. They are doing well on getting men home, scoring 5.38 runs per game, which is 5th. The Pirates OPS+ is 4th at 115. Everyone pales before the Tampa Bay Rays, who are at an astounding 150. The Pirates lead the league in stolen bases which is helping score runs but as the saying goes you cannot steal 1st. This is as high as the Pirates have been in these offensive stats in 5 or more years. Who is the poster child for this offensive resurgence? No question the most improved offensive player is Jack Suwinski. His batting process has improved dramatically. Batting average from .202 to .279. OBP from .298 to .393. Slugging from .411 to .618. He is tied for the team lead in walks with 14. This all due to a newfound plate discipline that hopefully will continue. This can be said for most of the team, as the offense has been pretty good for these 29 games.

Pitching: In run prevention the Pirate’s pitching staff is just as good as the offense is in producing runs, allowing 3.72 runs per game, which is 4th best in baseball. The pitching is 4th in ERA+ at 128 just 9 behind the Houston Astros. Their FIP is 3.81, which puts them in the 6th spot. As far as the pitching is concerned this has been a team effort. All the active pitchers at the moment have ERA+’s over 100, except Johan Oviedo and he is at 94, due to the bad outing the last game. Certainly, the surprise of the pitching staff has been Vince Velasquez. After a horrendous beginning, giving up 8 runs in a little over 7 innings in 2 starts, he has become the Pirates best pitcher. The last 4 games, he has given up 0 runs in 3 of them and 3 in the other game. His current ERA+ is 146. His lifetime ERA+ is 87. Whether it is him or something the Pirates saw, they have now honed him into a top pitcher. If he can keep this up even a little bit, it will make this rotation very formidable. I will admit I never saw this coming, but I am very happy.

Defense: Despite what you hear in the Pirate broadcast booth the Pirates are just an average fielding team at 17th in Defensive Efficiency. I think a lot of this is due to Rodolfo Castro having to move over to shortstop to replace Oneil Cruz. If Tucupita Marcano could prove that he can hit major league pitching, moving him to shortstop may help. The Pirates did this late in a game recently moving Castro over to second where he is better. Regardless the Pirates are fielding better than they have in a long time. It’s amazing what a real 1st baseman can do for you, thank you Carlos Santana.

The Pirates had a surprising great April. I expected this team to play meaningful games in August and September and contend for a playoff spot. I never thought they would get off to this good of a start, especially with some to the injuries that have occurred, beyond the devastating Oneil Cruz injury. The schedule is a little tougher in May, beginning with the next 6 games against the Rays and the Jays. If these Pirates can play .500 ball the rest of the season, they will wind up with 85+ wins. I certainly do not expect the Pirates to be 40-20 at the next 30 game report. 35 and 25 would be nice and I feel they are more than capable of accomplishing that record around the 1st week of June. They need to stay away from the injury bug if they are going to be in the hunt. They have had enough of that. I think the most important thing that happened this month was the long term signing of Bryan Reynolds. It shows that the Pirates have a true belief in this club and the future. If things continue like this, the future is now.

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