Pirates’ Depth Chart, Payroll & Winter Meetings Primer

neal huntington pirates

Neal Huntington and the Pirates have been fairly quiet so far this offseason, but that should change this week as the league’s annual Winter Meetings begin in Nashville.

By this point last year, the Bucs had already added A.J. Burnett, Francisco Cervelli, and Sean Rodriguez, then focused on re-signing Francisco Liriano and acquiring Antonio Bastardo at the Meetings. While they’ve surely laid some groundwork for deals over the past few weeks, their activity should ramp up in the coming days.

Here’s a look at what the Pirates currently own across the roster, what they might be looking for, and how many dollars they may have to work with…

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How well Pedro Alvarez needed to hit to offset his defense


Last night, the Pirates officially non-tendered their enigmatic first baseman, Pedro Alvarez, making him a free agent. The Bucs had been shopping him, Pedro himself had been looking for a trade, and it was clear that his days as a Pirate were numbered. However, the trade offers never came, or at least weren’t satisfactory. That became more and more apparent, as Mark Trumbo (essentially a right-handed hitting Alvarez) needed a reliever to be packaged with him just to fetch Steve Clevenger.

Alvarez, National League home run champ in 2013, had lost all value. In the years when defense has become more and more appreciated in the game, El Toro has gotten worse and worse. His case of the yips in 2014 forced a move to the other side of the diamond, but first base proved to be even more of a struggle. Alvarez was charged with 23 errors (tied for 3rd worst in MLB) and -14 Defensive Runs Saved (tied for fourth worst). Although his power returned and his overall offensive production matched his 2012 & 2013 output, his defensive deficiencies made him a near replacement level player by whichever version of Wins Above Replacement you prefer — FanGraphs (0.2) or Baseball-Reference (0.1).

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J.A. Happ & Market Rate

JA Happ Pirates

Last night, the Blue Jays signed J.A. Happ to a three-year, $36 million contract to return to Toronto. That takes one option off the board for the Pirates this offseason, as they look to fill the open spot(s) in the back of the rotation.

Happ, who hadn’t posted a seasonal ERA under 4.00 since 2010 and had never had a FIP under 4.00 in his career, wound up pitching to a 3.61 ERA & 3.41 FIP in 2015, thanks in large part to his final 11 starts in Pittsburgh. While he had the benefit of facing some easier NL opponents, two of his better starts (by Game Score, they were his two best) of the year came against the St. Louis Cardinals in the heat of a pennant race. In all, he somehow, someway managed a 1.85 ERA across 63.1 innings, while solidly increasing his strikeout rate (9.81 per nine) and decreasing his walk rate (1.85 per nine). He was dominant.

And, because of it, he got paid.

I’ve seen many fans saying it was too much cash — I don’t disagree, and it seems the Pirates don’t disagree either (I’m guessing they also didn’t agree with the number of years). However, these are the dollars that teams are facing on the open market.

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Visualizing the Range of the Pirates’ Outfield in 2015

One of my favorite posts last year was my first attempt at visualizing the range of the Pirates’ outfield. Thus, I wanted to take another crack at it for 2015.

Using the data that is fed into MLB Gameday (and easily made available through Jeff Zimmerman’s BaseballHeatMaps.com), we can easily grab some (x,y) batted ball coordinates. These locations are by no means perfect, and not as precise as what is produced by Baseball Info Solutions or made available to teams in the form of HITf/x or Statcast, but they’re good enough for our simple use.

It’s also a bit difficult to find exact play types or events, but with the at-bat descriptions, we can extract data points for phrases like “[batter] flies out to left fielder Starling Marte” or “lines out to center fielder Andrew McCutchen” or “out on a sacrifice fly to right fielder Gregory Polanco.” It’s even tougher to pinpoint every ball they didn’t snag within reach, so for now, we’ll only focus on balls that were converted into outs.

First up: Starling Marte, winner of the Fielding Bible, Gold Glove, and Wilson Defensive Player of the Year awards in left field.

Starling Marte Range

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MLB Win Curve in the Expanded Wild Card Era

Major League Baseball has now used a 10-team, two-Wild-Card postseason format for four years. Expanding the playoff field by two teams — one from each league — has obviously made it, in theory, “easier” to reach the postseason (even if you’re only there for one game).

With 120 team-seasons completed in the expanded Wild Card era (30 teams over four seasons), we can estimate a team’s playoff chances based on the number of games they won. This does not make predictions about the future, but rather just models what was observed in the past (with logistic regression, where the dependent variable is categorical — made playoffs = 1; did not make playoffs = 0).

This is known as the “win curve.”  While it can be taken further and broken down to find the marginal value of each additional win for a specific club, for right now I’m only concerned about this simple question: about how many wins does a team need to make the playoffs?

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