How the Pirates Built a Playoff Team

Last night, the Pirates won their 90th game of the season, and in the process, they clinched the organization’s first playoff berth in 21 years. You probably know that this is also their first winning season since 1992 as well, so calling this team a breakthrough for the organization is probably understating the importance of the 2013 roster. So, now that they’ve reached the postseason — or at least Game One of the playoffs — let’s take a look at how they finally overcame two decades of futility to put an excellent team together.

1. They bought into the theory behind xFIP.

The idea that a pitcher can be primarily evaluated on his walks, strikeouts, and ground balls is still a pretty unpopular opinion with a lot of people. It feels wrong to essentially ignore all the other parts of baseball, especially when you see a guy give up tons of hits and home runs and then hear some nerd with a spreadsheet explain that those don’t actually mean that he’s a bad pitcher. A lot of teams — most teams, I’d say — still prefer to evaluate pitchers based on some kind of runs allowed basis.

The Pirates, though, bought into the idea that they could build a pitching staff with fixable underachievers. Here are the ERAs and xFIPs of three of their recent pitching acquisitions in the season before they joined the organization.

A.J. Burnett, 2011: 5.15 ERA, 3.86 xFIP
Francisco Liriano, 2012: 5.34 ERA, 4.14 xFIP
Mark Melancon. 2012: 6.20 ERA, 3.45 xFIP

The Yankees paid the Pirates to take Burnett of their hands. Liriano was signed as a scrap heap free agent who generated little interest from other clubs. Melancon was just one of four players acquired in the Joel Hanrahan trade, a guy who was seen as a bit part in a minor transaction. The Pirates are paying about $13 million this season for the trio, which is equivalent to the price the Red Sox paid this year for Ryan Dempster or the Nationals paid for Rafael Soriano. Those three pitchers have combined to throw 409 innings and post a 2.86 ERA for the Pirates this season.

Clearly, not even a 100% devotion to the predictive power of xFIP would have forecast this kind of performance from these pitchers. Liriano’s ERA is nearly a run and a half below his 2012 xFIP, so while his peripheral statistics pointed towards an improvement, it would be dishonest to suggest that his numbers said that this was on the horizon. Same with Melancon, who looked like a potentially solid middle reliever by xFIP but has turned out to be a dominating relief ace instead.

In all three cases, though, the Pirates chose to buy low on a talented arm who had seen his stock fall because of things that could reasonably be expected to not continue. Those moves gave them two frontline starting pitchers and one of the best relievers in the National League this season. It doesn’t always work out this well, but buying low on pitchers with inflated ERAs is still a pretty good idea, and the Pirates are prime evidence of how well this strategy can pay off.

2. They cultivated a superstar.

Andrew McCutchen was drafted 11th overall in 2005 on the strength of his physical tools and his surprising raw power for a player his size, but that power didn’t really manifest itself in the minor leagues. In 138 games in Double-A, he slugged .397. In 201 games in Triple-A, he slugged .424, and he only hit 14 home runs. The rest of his game was good enough that the power didn’t have to come to be a valuable contributor, but it was not always obvious that McCutchen was going to turn into what he is today.

But they stuck with him, and perhaps more importantly, they didn’t rush him. The Pirates gave McCutchen 2,200 minor league plate appearances over five seasons before he made his big league debut. They decided not to repeat the mistakes of the organization’s past, when they had aggressively pushed talented but raw youngsters like Jose Guillen and Aramis Ramirez and ended up punting them before watching them develop elsewhere.

Since getting to the big leagues, McCutchen has developed from a very good player into a true superstar, and he should walk away with the league MVP trophy at the season’s end. But this was a process eight years in the making, and McCutchen has more than rewarded the organization’s faith in his abilities. The Pirates had not always been this patient with young talents. Trusting in McCutchen’s skills, even if they weren’t always translating into present results, has paid off in the form of an elite franchise player.

3. They ignored positional sterotypes.

Neil Walker is 6’3, and came up through the minors as a catcher. When it became apparent that he probably wasn’t a big league catcher, they moved him to third base, because that’s where bigger guys with arm strength tend to play. In 2010, someone in the organization decided that it would be worth experimenting with him as a second baseman, even though he didn’t look anything like a second baseman, and the tools profile suggested that his arm would be mostly wasted at the position.

With a lot of hard work, the Pirates have helped turn Walker into a solid enough defender at the position, and his bat provides a lot of value at an up the middle spot where most teams aren’t getting his kind of offensive production.

In left field, they went the other direction entirely. Despite posting just a .300 on base percentage and hitting nearly three of every five balls in play on the ground in his debut last season, Starling Marte was handed the starting left field job out of spring training this year. The Pirates knew that Marte wasn’t going to be a big home run guy, and he doesn’t fit the typical left field profile at all. He’s a center fielder playing left because the Pirates already have McCutchen.

But instead of buying into the notion of needing power from the corners and defense up the middle, the Pirates just found a way to put their most talented players on the field, and if that meant playing a speed-and-defense center fielder in left, then so be it. Marte has responded with a breakout season, providing remarkable value with his legs on both offense and defense. Rather than thinking his speed would be wasted in a corner spot, the Pirates gave Marte a chance to show what he could do, and he’s been one of the NL’s best left fielders this season.

The idea that players at certain positions need to have a particular offensive skillset is almost entirely outdated, and the Pirates have done well to ignore those norms, putting players at positions where they might not look like the part and getting significant value in the process.

4. They bought into the value of defensive shifts.

I don’t have much to add about this that wasn’t already covered in Travis Sawchick’s terrific profile on the team’s defense last week, so go read that piece if you haven’t already. The long and short of it is that the Pirates have become one of the most aggressive shifting teams in the majors, and have attempted to use every resource available to allow as few hits as possible to their opponents.

This is one of the best examples of collaboration between old school and new school ideas that baseball has seen. Clint Hurdle is not a young guy fresh out of an Ivy League school. The Pirates didn’t fire all their scouts and player development guys and replace them with computers. The coaching staff bought in to what the front office was selling, and the team as a whole has benefited from the collaboration. This is how this is supposed to work. It isn’t Michael Lewis’ characterization of the war between the smart and the dumb, it’s combining the perspectives and information into the best plan possible. The Pirates and their defense are a fantastic example of what can happen when everyone is on the same page.

5. They saw value in Russell Martin.

I’m saving this one until last, but it really could be #1, honestly. If it weren’t for McCutchen’s presence on the same Pirates team, I think you could actually put together a compelling case for Russell Martin as the 2013 NL MVP.

Yeah, I know, that sounds kind of ridiculous given his .230/.329/.384 batting line, but Martin has been a defensive monster this season, and it’s gone mostly unnoticed. It shouldn’t, though. He’s had one of the best defensive seasons from a catcher in recent history.

Let’s start with the stuff that’s easy to quantify. Martin leads the majors in gunning down runners, having created 36 outs for the team by nailing opposing base stealers, a 40% caught stealing rate. That CS%, in and of itself, isn’t anything unheard of, but most guys who are as good at throwing runners out as Martin is don’t get run on very often. Whether it is because of lingering reports on how bad the Pirates were at throwing runners out last year or simply Martin not appearing to have as strong an arm as some other catchers, runners have been testing him in almost every game he’s caught, and he’s created more than a full game’s worth of outs in the process.

And while throwing out runners is generally dependent on work from both the pitchers and the catchers, it’s hard to argue that Martin’s success has been due to the pitching staff he has worked with when you see the awful success rate the non-Martin Pirates catchers have had at throwing runners out this year. Between them, Michael McKenry, John Buck, and Tony Sanchez have allowed 40 stolen bases and thrown out just seven attempted stealers, a lousy 15% caught stealing rate that is in line with what the Pirates as a team gave up last year.

Based on the DRS calculations, Martin has saved the Pirates nine runs through base stealing prevention, adding basically a win of value just by gunning down opposing runners so often. And that’s just one part of catcher defense. Martin has also been terrific at the others parts as well.

One of the stats we have here on the site but we don’t talk about much is RPP, which is runs saved or lost due to passed pitches, or said more commonly, blocking balls in the dirt. Based on the location of the pitches he’s received, the expectation is that Martin would have had 65 pitches get by him for wild pitches or passed balls; in reality, he’s only had 54 get by him, a difference of +11 pitches blocked, which translates into four runs saved. The #1 catcher in pitch blocking, Yadier Molina, is at +5.5 runs, so Martin isn’t far off the big league lead in this area either.

And then there’s pitch framing. Jeff Sullivan has written about Martin’s framing abilities on multiple occasions, noting even early in the season that Martin’s receiving skills could have a significant positive impact on his team’s pitchers. While pitch framing calculations are still in their early stages, Matthew Carruth’s catcher report at StatCorner estimates that Martin has saved the Pirates 18 runs through turning balls into strikes, the fourth highest total in baseball.

We’re not at a point where we can say that the calculations are perfectly capturing the entirety of a backstop’s influence on his pitching staff, but as we noted earlier, the Pirates have gotten some pretty surprising performances from discarded pitchers, and it logically follows that Martin has had a hand in their resurgence. Even if you only give him partial credit for the framing runs saved, this is still an area where he has added real value.

Even without framing value, our estimate of runs saved by a catcher’s defensive performance rates Martin’s 2013 season as the most valuable since 2002, the first year we have play by play data. If you give him some boost for his framing skills, it’s not a significant leap to say that Martin has been as valuable a defender as anyone else in baseball this year, Manny Machado and Andrelton Simmons included.

Martin probably won’t appear on very many MVP ballots, but he is one of the main reasons the 2013 Pirates are an excellent baseball team. While the general consensus has acclaimed Francisco Liriano as the best free agent bargain of the winter, I’d give that crown to Martin. The fact that the two best candidates are both on the Pirates says something about just how good an off-season Pittsburgh had last year.

This Pirates team isn’t the fruit of 21 years of losing. They aren’t just riding the wave of years of high draft picks. This team was built intelligently with undervalued assets and pieces that fit together perfectly. The A’s are probably always going to be the model franchise for what a smart team can do with limited resources, but let’s not overlook how the Pirates built a winner after two decades of losing. This is a shining example of a well constructed team, and they deserve all the success they’ve gotten.

Congratulations to the long suffering Pirates fans who will get to see their team play in the postseason this year, and congratulations to the people responsible for building the team that made it possible.



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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.


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Da Cashman
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Da Cashman
2 years 11 months ago

I’d rather have Vernon Wells than Martin

Baltar
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Baltar
2 years 11 months ago

How the Yankees let Martin go will puzzle me forever.

pft
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pft
2 years 11 months ago

Cheap, cheap, cheap. Yankees were more interested in looking to cut payroll in 2014 and thus avoided resigning Martin to a multi-year deal, and it cost them a playoff spot, probably their last chance for the big show in quite a while.

Cliff
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Cliff
2 years 11 months ago

Martin says he offered to come back to the Yankees on a one-year deal. They never even made him an offer!

Donny
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Donny
2 years 11 months ago

Uhhh, not quite. The Yankees actually made an extension offer to MArtin before the 2012 season (3 years, $21 million) and Martin turned it down. So as questionable as it was for the Yankees to not re-sign Martin, it was just as questionable for Martin to not have taken that deal since he took the lesser deal. from a career perspecitive, it obviously worked in his favor since he will be returning to the playoffs and the Yankees will not.

I just wanted to point out that this commenter was incorrect to blindly state that the Yankees “avoided” trying to sign Martin.

Steve
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Steve
2 years 11 months ago

I didn’t know much about Martin before we got him. But when the bucs signed him, I read from tons of Yankee fans on yahoo that they were glad to get rid of him and the bucs got a bum. They said that’s why Pirates management will never get a winning team and the bucs overpaid. hmmm.

jsolid
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jsolid
2 years 11 months ago

Yankee fan here – who does not hang out on Yahoo chat boards, – and i was shocked and appalled that the Yanks let Martin go.

Balls McGee
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Balls McGee
2 years 11 months ago

I know you gave him a boatload of words, but Martin calls a great game as well. Very rarely shaken off by the pitchers, including the stingy Burnett. Does his homework for sure.

xsturmin8
Member
xsturmin8
2 years 11 months ago

It’s probably worth mentioning that Cutch, Walker, Pedro Alvarez, Gerrit Cole all high profile first round picks. They’ve made good moves, I agree, but giving credit to all of this stuff while ignoring the obvious advantage of regularly picking in the top 15 is a little disingenuous.

Balls McGee
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Balls McGee
2 years 11 months ago

Ehh, Walker and Cutch were 11th picks. Poor angle of criticism to come from as the biggest value came from an 11th pick and their offseason work. Front office deserves a heaping of praise and Dave has rightfully done so.

Jay
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Jay
2 years 11 months ago

Gregg Ritchie also deserves a lot of praise. He had a big role in the development of Cutch, Walker, Jones, and Alverez being their roving hitting coach from 06 to 09 and the big league hitting coach in 2010 and 2011. He was pretty much with them the whole way to the big leagues and their first few years there.

dan w
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dan w
2 years 11 months ago

Having all those guys contribute is still rare. Just because they’re first rounders doesn’t make them guarantees.

AJB
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AJB
2 years 11 months ago

Huntington was hired in 2007 and inherited McCutcheon and Walker. He also inherited Brad Lincoln [4] and Daniel Moskos [4], then drafted Alvarez [2] and Sanchez [4].

But sure, we are ignoring the advantage of having a pick in the top 15 regularly as it clearly doesn’t matter what player you take or how you develop that player.

Marc McClintock
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Marc McClintock
2 years 11 months ago

It’s “McCutchen”

Baltar
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Baltar
2 years 11 months ago

Grienke says hello.

Mozgov
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Mozgov
2 years 11 months ago

How many teams haven’t had a top 15 pick in the last 10 years? Do they also have a 150 million dollar payroll?

Pirates Hurdles
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Pirates Hurdles
2 years 11 months ago

The Bucs have been picking at the top of the draft for 20 years. That alone means very little in the big picture. The previous management teams had the same pick advantage and did little with it. Of course none of this success is happening without McCutchen whom Dave Littlefield had to be strongly persuaded to draft. If only he had listened to Ed Creech on Jason Heyward in 2007 too.

szielinski
Member
Member
szielinski
2 years 11 months ago

The scouting staff also wanted Upton, not Bullington.

That said, Creech and his people failed to amaze anyone with his picks in rounds 2-50. The Pirates under Huntington are doing much better in this regard.

Pirates Hurdles
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Pirates Hurdles
2 years 11 months ago

It seems much more likely that Creech was handcuffed by DL and McClatchy not wanting to spend any money on rounds 2-50. They drafted Stephen Drew for example and had him committed to sign, but management nixed it.

maguro
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maguro
2 years 11 months ago

Drew was drafted in 2001, before Creech took over. I think Mickey White was still scouting director when the the Drew thing went down.

Pirates Hurdles
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Pirates Hurdles
2 years 11 months ago

Correct my bad, Creech came in in November 2001. Still, I’m pretty sure Creech had his hands tied beyond round 1 and rarely could win battles with DL.

Yankees Fan
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Yankees Fan
2 years 11 months ago

2 of the 5 reasons here made me sick to my stomach.

Almost as sick as I feel when I realize if the Yankees used their resources half as well as the Rays, A’s, etc. they would be an unstoppable force.

Steve
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Steve
2 years 11 months ago

Martin yes, Burnett no.

Yes, it’s great that Burnett revived his career moving to the DH-less league, the less homer happy stadium, and the less intense atmosphere.

It’s a little bit of a stretch to think after 2 years of terrible pitching that he was going to turn it around in NY.

I say this as a guy who liked AJ, it just wasn’t going to happen. He wasn’t just “unlucky” in NY, he ALSO stunk.

Dewey
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Dewey
2 years 11 months ago

Dave, some of their pitching success has to be attributed to their home park? I mean, isn’t it easier to take a gamble on pitchers when you know half of you game is played in a pitcher’s park.

cass
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cass
2 years 11 months ago

That’s definitely helped the Padres and Mariners become regular participants in postseason baseball!

Jimi
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Jimi
2 years 11 months ago

If you ran the Padres, wouldn’t you bring in guys with high xFIPs, rehab their ERAs until they’re nice and shiny, and sell high?

Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

jcxy
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jcxy
2 years 11 months ago

When I was reading this part, this was my thought as well, Dewey. I think what Dave meant to say is that the management was smart enough to recognize what type of ballpark they had and build a team to fit it. The high ERA-xFIP split guys would likely to struggle in Coors, Yankee stadium, Rogers, Fenway, etc etc. He even wrote an article about the Guthrie (was it?) experiment in Coors last year was bound to fail. But put that type of pitcher in a friendly park..you’re giving them a punchers chance.

Plus, if they’re coming from a park that inflates HR, you get the added benefit that they’re coming to you cheaper than their fair value.

B N
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B N
2 years 11 months ago

This. There’s a lot of value to be gained by tailoring your team to your park. Fenway is a great park for slower-footed corner outfielders, people who foul off the ball a lot (foul territory is almost nil), but not a good park for fly-ball pitchers. Safeco, on the other hand, is great for fly-ball guys but you need gazelles in the OF to run all those balls down. PNC is a less extreme version of that, from what I’ve gathered.

I’m surprised that teams don’t make their parks more extreme to increase the home field advantage. A park that is league-average from one side of the plate but great (or hard) to hit from the other side would make various pitchers and hitters more valuable to your team only. Likewise, a park with high walls but not average HR distances would give extra value to fly-ball hitters and ground-ball pitchers in your park.

Steve
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2 years 11 months ago

“He’s a center fielder playing left because the Pirates already have McCutchen.”

I think the size of left field in PNC plays a role there too. Not too many places have the left fielder standing in front of a wall that’s 380+ ft from the plate.

eltorostrikesagain
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eltorostrikesagain
2 years 11 months ago

Building a team that fits your park is smart management also. A gazelle covering a spacious left field, smart. Lots of left handed starting pitching in a park that suppresses RH power like few others, smart. (Wandy, Liriano, Locke). Having faith in Grilli was a great idea, as was trading Hanrahan, who was too expensive as a closer for this team. Another great thing is the farm system continued to excel. Should be looking at continued winning, not just a flukey year or 2.

Justin
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Justin
2 years 11 months ago

I smell a run at Josh Johnson if AJ Burnett retires

Justin
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Justin
2 years 11 months ago

He’d fit the model from step #1 at least

Gyre
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Gyre
2 years 11 months ago

They may get him anyway, since the recent sellouts will continue into at least part of next year. Season ticket sales should be brisk, since they are tied into playoff seating.

Noah
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Noah
2 years 11 months ago

Why would AJ Burnett retire? He could easily be an effective pitcher for two more years.

szielinski
Member
Member
szielinski
2 years 11 months ago

Why would AJ Burnett retire?

He’s filthy rich, he’s older than most pitchers, has the aches and pains of an older player, doesn’t need the aggravation, wants to spend time with his family, etc.

On the other hand, AJ “STFD” Burnett might miss the competition a bit. I expect him back.

eltorostrikesagain
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eltorostrikesagain
2 years 11 months ago

Only way I see AJ retiring is if they win it all. I think he genuinely loves playing in Pittsburgh, and loves this team and this city. If he does retire, we have Wandy, Liriano, Cole, Locke, Morton, Taillon on the team to start the season with. Awesome.

Pirates Hurdles
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Pirates Hurdles
2 years 11 months ago

AJ just said he is 50-50 to retire last weekend and wants to retire as a Pirate. So, it seems its Pirates or retirement right now.

Bill
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Bill
2 years 11 months ago

There also seems to be some kind of combination of #1 and #4 that they’ve put together. They’ve clearly targeted guys who they believe can keep the ball on the ground and trust their shifted fielders to convert those balls into outs.

Burnett was a big groundball guy earlier in his career, then kinda drifted away from it as he got older. His first two years with the Yankees he was way down in the lower 40% range before shifting back up to 49% in 2011. Since he’s been a Pirate he’s been among the league leaders at 56.9% and 56.6%.

Liriano’s rate had been all over the place throughout his career, but had topped 50% twice, and those happened to be his fantastic 2006 and 2010 seasons. He’s back up over 50% this year.

They’ve shown a seemingly undying devotion to Charlie Morton and his ridiculous ability to produce grounders, and that has finally paid off in a big, big way this year.

They also have done magical things with Jeanmar Gomez.

They have definitely focused on guys who they believe can keep the ball on the ground, whether or not they are currently doing it. They also seem to have a very successful program for getting those guys to do it. I don’t know if that’s a mechanical thing or just a philisophical thing they’ve hammered into them, but it seems to be working pretty well.

Mozgov
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Mozgov
2 years 11 months ago

They also continue to employ Clint Barmes despite a bat that couldn’t crack most AAA lineups

Roto Wizard
Member
Roto Wizard
2 years 11 months ago

Yet he has almost provided a full win in value despite playing in barely 100 games. Defense matters, especially when 60% of batted balls are coming at you on the ground.

eltorostrikesagain
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eltorostrikesagain
2 years 11 months ago

+1 for Jeanmar name-drop. He’s been a very valuable swing man this year.

Seneca
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Seneca
2 years 11 months ago

exactly

genghiskhanull
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genghiskhanull
2 years 11 months ago

I can’t wait until they take the leash off of Cole (and Taillon, eventually.) I’m banking on him taking the leap within the next few years.

Joncarlos
Member
Joncarlos
2 years 11 months ago

It’s possible that they were smart enough to realize that #3, 4 and 5 are what makes #1 possible (along with their friendly stadium). Liriano was always a mess but certainly The Cell didn’t help him, and both Melancon/Burnett were freed from tough parks in the AL East.

Gyre
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Gyre
2 years 11 months ago

Nice article and it’s a nice time to be sayin Arrgh!

Baltar
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Baltar
2 years 11 months ago

Agreed. This (and the article linked to) are my favorite kind of article: how a good team was built. The mainstream press very rarely writes this kind of article. It’s too easy just to give opinions and quote the manager and players.

LetsGoMarauders
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2 years 11 months ago

You forgot to mention much about the minor league affiliates – where do you think these newer guys came from ? BRADENTON MARAUDERS!

SKob
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2 years 11 months ago

Or just wait 20 years and some amount of luck is bound to bite you in the a$$!

Bucfan
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Bucfan
2 years 11 months ago

The article convincingly shows that the Pirates’ 2013 success has a lot to do with good baseball decisions and strategy, and little to do with luck.

Seneca
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Seneca
2 years 11 months ago

“Luck Is What Happens When Preparation Meets Opportunity”

Frank
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Frank
2 years 11 months ago

Best article of all time.

Mike Green
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Mike Green
2 years 11 months ago

Sixth factor: beat your Pythagorean by six games.

I’d put significant weight on #5- Russ Martin, for reasons Dave elaborates on. It is hard to measure the impact of catcher defence beyond the obvious issues that can be quantified now, but when a pitching staff improves the way the Pirate staff has, it is usually fair to give some of the credit to the catcher.

Andrew
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Andrew
2 years 11 months ago

Pirates have a better run differential than the Nationals against a substantially more difficult schedule

Baltar
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Baltar
2 years 11 months ago

Pythag is useless.

Jeff
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Jeff
2 years 11 months ago

That is a ridiculous thing to say.

matt w
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matt w
2 years 11 months ago

Their second-order win percentage is about two-and-a-half games better than their Pythag (http://www.baseballprospectus.com/standings/). They haven’t scored as many runs as they would with average sequencing, which offsets the Pythagorean luck to some extent.

And as you can see from the link (and as Andrew said) no matter what order wins you use, the Pirates are well ahead of the next best team in the NL.

JAL
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JAL
2 years 11 months ago

Great article.

Utah Dave
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Utah Dave
2 years 11 months ago

It is hard to quantify the value Russell Martin has brought to the team. Everything listed is absolutely true. But if you are a Pirates pitcher and you get ahead in the count – even with men on base – you don’t have to panic when Martin calls for a picth in the dirt. He does a great job at getting in front of balls in the dirt.

After watching Rod Barajas last year I see no way the 2013 Pirates would be where they are with him behind the dish. So to make the Russell Martin Pirates’ MVP argument is not that far off. Cutch still wins, but this team would not be in the playoffs without Martin.

As a die hard life long Pirates fan the best part is that this isn’t a 1-year wonder. The Bucs are going to be competitive for the forseeable future. But those darn Cardinals aren’t going away any time soon.

Baltar
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Baltar
2 years 11 months ago

Nor the Reds.

szielinski
Member
Member
szielinski
2 years 11 months ago

Expect the Cubs to return to form. Only the Brewers, with their poor drafts, appear likely to flounder in the near-term.

Robbie G.
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Robbie G.
2 years 11 months ago

If I lived anywhere near Pittsburgh, I would for sure go to the Pirates first (hopefully not only) playoff game this fall. I can’t remember ever wanting to go to a particular baseball game (at least a non-Game 7) this much.

Pirates Hurdles
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Pirates Hurdles
2 years 11 months ago

Well the WC game is essentially a game 7, ;-)

I’m just hoping I get to realize my playoff tickets this time, unlike my 1992 WS tickets.

jpg
Guest
jpg
2 years 11 months ago

Great article but come on Dave, Martin for league MVP? He’s not even the best catcher in his own division, much less the league, much less being the best player across all positions in the league. Best Pirates offseason acquisition? Sure that’s debatable. Best offseason acquisition period? I probably wouldn’t agree but I’m sure a case could be. MVP? That’s silly. I’d love to hear this “compelling case”.

Ben
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Ben
2 years 11 months ago

It’s all there in the article, man. Martin has 4 fWAR on the basis of having a half-decent bat, throwing out a lot of baserunners and being pretty good at blocking pitches in the dirt. If you add in pitch framing, which fWAR doesn’t, that’s around an extra 2 wins (+/- your faith in the stats). By that method he’s at least in the conversation.

Ben
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Ben
2 years 11 months ago

Sullivan probably just didn’t use WAR because it can really become toxic to any kind of discussion

jpg
Guest
jpg
2 years 11 months ago

I see what your saying, but Yadi Molina has been better in every facet of the game by any objective measure. And Molina is probably a middle-of-the-ballot MVP candidate at best behind Cutch, Kershaw, Goldschmidt and perhaps Votto. Martin is essentially a poor man’s version of a guy who probably won’t even garner a first place MVP vote. He’s been terrific and undoubtedly a key cog for the Pirates. An unsung hero if you will. But he’s not the MVP, and no, I’m sorry, he doesn’t belong in the conversation.

Bad Bill
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Bad Bill
2 years 11 months ago

“If it weren’t for McCutchen’s presence on the same Pirates team, I think you could actually put together a compelling case for Russell Martin as the 2013 NL MVP.”

Uh, Yadier Molina says hi, and wants to know in what aspect of being a top catcher Martin is outdoing him.

jj
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jj
2 years 11 months ago

Doubtful since if it weren’t for McCutchen the Pirates would likely not be in the playoffs. So, along with this article not being written or at least renamed to “How the Pirates put together a .500+ team”, Martin would be the 2nd best catcher in his division on a non-playoff team. not too compelling.

szielinski
Member
Member
szielinski
2 years 11 months ago

Defense

chuckb
Guest
chuckb
2 years 11 months ago

Ummm….nope. Martin’s really good but he just isn’t better than Molina.

How many runs would Yadi save, for example, if anyone ever attempted to run on him?

szielinski
Member
Member
szielinski
2 years 11 months ago

Go look at the numbers.

Joe
Guest
Joe
2 years 11 months ago

Most Valuable doesn’t mean “Best.”

Getting a ton of easy outs >> not having people run on you at all

PackBob
Guest
PackBob
2 years 11 months ago

“While the general consensus has acclaimed Francisco Liriano as the best free agent bargain of the winter, I’d give that crown to Martin. The fact that the two best candidates are both on the Pirates says something about just how good an off-season Pittsburgh had last year.”

What a fortunate turn of events.

PackBob
Guest
PackBob
2 years 11 months ago

Players perform and the GM is a genius; players don’t perform and the GM Is an idiot. Since the analysis is always hindsight, it’s tough to discern where the line is between smart moves and moves that turned out well. Good teams generally have both.

At the beginning of the season, Martin looked like a good move and Liriano a gamble. Pittsburg has been fortunate that their move and gamble have both paid off with extremely good performance.

James
Guest
James
2 years 11 months ago

The Seattle Mariners need to take note.

chuckb
Guest
chuckb
2 years 11 months ago

They’re too busy watching Dayton Moore to notice what’s happening in Pittsburgh.

Jack Z: Pittsburgh’s in the playoffs? The Steelers, right? The Pirates? Are you sure? How the hell did they get enough pitching out of Duke and Gorzelanny? Do they still have Ludwick in left? I guess playing 18 games against the Astros helped.

Trygve
Guest
Trygve
2 years 11 months ago

Check out the Astros-Mariners record this year. The Astros aren’t the reason the Mariners finished ahead of the Astros in the AL West race to the bottom. Z has proven he can’t build a Major League Team; ownership here has proven they don’t want to. Profitable operating budget, screaming franchise equity appreciation is their target and they’ve nailed it. Sorry. Drifted off topic. We’re just so jealous of ‘rebuilding’ that is a verb, not a slogan.

earln
Guest
earln
2 years 11 months ago

Pirates pitching just had one of those seasons where the whole staff clicked and it didn’t fall apart like the last couple of years. I think Pittsburgh better go for the ring, as I just can’t figure the core of this staff could do it again. I think they could improve at the plate as a club though with current players.

Cato the Elder
Guest
Cato the Elder
2 years 11 months ago

Outside of Cole, the “core” of their staff doesn’t even play in Pittsburgh yet.

Joe
Guest
Joe
2 years 11 months ago

Let’s not forget our no.2 (Wandy) has been out since about June, our no.3/2012 All-Star (Macdonald) has imploded and been useless all season, our no.4 (Karstens) has been injured all year, our replacement no.5 (Jonathan yeesh Sanchez) was warm garbage, and our current no.3 + 4 (Morton/Cole) were not on the team until 2 months in (TommyJohn/Rookie).

This was good planning, not good luck.

karp
Guest
karp
2 years 11 months ago

Great article Dave. I also think that one of the biggest improvements I’ve seen in the team this year is their ability to throw the first pitch for a strike, both from the SP as well as the pen. That’s a game changer that swings the advantage to us every time, especially when you have a wipeout pitch to use later in the count.

Thufir
Guest
Thufir
2 years 11 months ago

This was an excellent article….

IMFink's Pa
Guest
IMFink's Pa
2 years 11 months ago

Dan Fox.

theeiffeltower
Member
theeiffeltower
2 years 11 months ago

When will you guys get it into your heads that past HR/total balls made contact with is a better predictor of future HR rate than past fly ball rate? It’s not “buying into xFIP,” the mistaken idea that past FB rate can predict future HR rate better than past HR/CON so much as recognizing that HR rate can be fluky over small samples and, perhaps more importantly, that PNC Park suppresses home runs and might provide a safe haven for guys who had trouble keeping the ball in the park elsewhere.

DaveG
Guest
DaveG
2 years 11 months ago

I have to disagree with your top 5 reasons the Pirates have won this year. I am always amazed how writers try to analyze and break down the players/moves/stats in an effort to figure out the impossible. Chemistry is not understood by anyone outside the game. And those in the game refuse to talk about it for fear it will evaporate. From experience let me tell you why the Bucs are winning….Clint Hurdle. Without Clint the Bucs would probably be a .500 team….I played with Clint and also played for him. He has the rare ability to get the best out of players and also create a climate where players are willing to put aside their personal wants and goals for the greater team goals. Bucs appear to be on a mission. Similar to the Rockies run to the World Series with Clint and Bob Apodaca. Fun stuff.
G-Man

Joe
Guest
Joe
2 years 11 months ago

I guess the manager was just a guy in a Clint Hurdle mask for all the other years he hasn’t coached his team to the playoffs?

DaveG
Guest
DaveG
2 years 11 months ago

I don’t recall saying that Clint Hurdle has won championships every year he coached…..but he is a winner and has a track record of turning teams around. Players still want to play for someone or something bigger than themselves.

B N
Guest
B N
2 years 11 months ago

Getting into the playoffs was bound to happen, due to regression to the mean. The league average for teams getting into the MLB division series has stabilized around 0.267 for years now, over which period the Pirates had a POYIP (PlayOffs during Years in Play) percentage of 0.000. Over 20 years, a league-average team would have had around 5 playoff appearances against the Pirates’ 0.

According to PIPS (Performance-Independent Playoff Statistics), it simply wasn’t sustainable to maintain that kind of streak. While I will admit their xPOYIP was lower than league average, it was certainly higher than 0 so it was bound to happen at some point. However, for a better estimate of their playoff chances moving forward, we should probably focus more on TIARA (Tendency to Independently Achieve Results Annually).

Trygve
Guest
Trygve
2 years 11 months ago

You’re kidding, right?
See “Mariners.”

chrisrayl
Guest
chrisrayl
2 years 11 months ago

Marte as a CF in LF makes even more sense given PNC Park, where there is a lot of territory in LF. Adds to his defensive value big time.

From the Lumber Company
Guest
From the Lumber Company
2 years 11 months ago
existing
Guest
existing
2 years 11 months ago

Congrats to Pirates fan, indeed. As an Oriole fan, I could not be happier for a fanbase that has been through a lot. Enjoy the post season!

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