ESPN: Pirates one of nine “all-in” analytical teams

neal huntington clint hurdle

ESPN The Magazine’s annual analytics issue hit newsstands this week, and their breakdown of each MLB team’s analytical usage is now online.

The worldwide leader ranked the Pirates as one of nine “all-in” teams who believe in advanced stats and analytics, which shouldn’t be much of a surprise. It’s been a priority since Neal Huntington came over from Cleveland in ’07.

“Huntington vowed to bring sabermetric evaluation to the Pirates, and more specifically to integrate “objective and subjective analysis.” He brought in software architect and former Baseball Prospectus writer Dan Fox to oversee the team’s analytics department. Fox leads a team of three baseball operations staffers with strong backgrounds in computer science and statistics, and he gets additional support from two dedicated IT people and two interns.

The staff includes Mike Fitzgerald, a former Celtics intern and MIT football player with a rare combination of skills: He can write code and be comfortably embedded in the clubhouse, as a Grantland feature detailed. Having a member of the analytics group with the team has improved communication, and other organizations have followed suit.

“The way that we are integrated is a strength,” Fox told ESPN.com. As Fox and his staff continue development of the Pirates’ baseball information system, he says he believes the team has the resources to adapt to the next set of challenges that player tracking data will bring.

Most important, analytics have a voice in Huntington’s decision making. ‘One of the best things about Neal is his inclusiveness,’ Fox adds, ‘he is always willing to share his thought process and listen to ideas.'” – ESPN

They grouped each team into one of five categories: All-In, Believers, One Foot In, Skeptics, and Non-Believers. Are the believers better off? Here’s a look at each team’s ranking, compared to their winning percentage each of the last two seasons:

espn analytics issue pirates

(The cluster under the Indians includes the Yankees, Red Sox, Rays)

Average Winning Percentage 2013-2014:

  • All-In: .513
  • Believers: .523
  • One Foot In: .487
  • Skeptics: .486
  • Non-Believers: .440

Some teams will be different in 2015 (ex. Cubs on the way up; Braves on the way down), and some front offices are changing (Dodgers). But for the most part, advanced analysis and smarter front offices have helped the way teams think and perform, especially the Pirates.

Go Bucs

Committing to Russell Martin and Approaching the 18%

If you think back to last winter, you may remember Neal Huntington saying something along the lines of “we aren’t comfortable committing 18-20% of our payroll to one player” in regards to A.J. Burnett. If they gave A.J. a qualifying offer — and he accepted — that would have been around $14 million on a payroll of maybe $80 million, which would have equated to 17.5%.

Fast-forward to today, and you know the Pirates have a very interesting offseason ahead of them. Everyone is already putting pressure on NH to re-sign Russell Martin under Nutting’s presumably tight budget. Here’s what Huntington told 93.7 The Fan on Wednesday, something I’m very surprised he even said:

[quote_simple]“We’re going to stretch. We are going to go way beyond our comfort level and hope it’s enough… We do recognize that this man and this player has been really good this year and projects to be pretty good going forward.”[/quote_simple]

It’s hard to say exactly what that “comfort level” is, but remember the 18% figure. Travis Sawchik followed up this evening with a related article, saying how the Pirates “are reevaluating their payroll allocation models” to see if Martin can fit. Consider this:

[quote_simple]

Last offseason, Huntington cited a study conducted by the Cleveland Indians when he was working in their front office. The Indians found no club committing 18 percent or more of its payroll to one player had ever won a World Series. The study was done a decade ago, and Huntington is not sure if it remains accurate…

“It could be outdated,” said Huntington of the 18 percent allocation benchmark. “We are reevaluating all of our benchmarks as we go for forward and prepare (for free agency), even benchmarks we established last year or even two years ago. Certainly the payroll percentage is one we are going to reevaluate.”

[/quote_simple]

Let’s see if that statement is outdated, checking on the last 10 World Series winners. [salary and payroll data via Baseball Cube]

2004 Boston Red Sox

Highest Paid Player: Manny Ramirez $22.5 million

Total Payroll: $127,298,500

Top Player Percentage: 17.7%


2005 Chicago White Sox

Highest Paid Player: Paul Konerko $8.75 million

Total Payroll: $75,178,000 million

Top Player Percentage: 11.6%


2006 St. Louis Cardinals

Highest Paid Player: Albert Pujols $14 million

Total Payroll: $88,891,371

Top Player Percentage: 15.7%


2007 Boston Red Sox

Highest Paid Player: Manny Ramirez $17,016,381

Total Payroll: $143,026,214

Top Player Percentage: 11.9%


2008 Philadelphia Phillies

Highest Paid Player: Pat Burrell $14.25 million

Total Payroll: $98,269,880

Top Player Percentage: 14.5%


2009 New York Yankees

Highest Paid Player: Alex Rodriguez $33 million

Total Payroll: $201,449,189

Top Player Percentage: 16.4%


2010 San Francisco Giants

Highest Paid Player: Barry Zito $18.5 million

Total Payroll: $97,828,833

Top Player Percentage: 18.9%


2011 St. Louis Cardinals

Highest Paid Player: Matt Holliday $16,317,774

Total Payroll: $105,433,572

Top Player Percentage: 15.5%


2012 San Francisco Giants

Highest Paid Player: Barry Zito $19 million

Total Payroll: $81,978,100

Top Player Percentage: 23.1%


2013 Boston Red Sox

Highest Paid Player: Jake Peavy $16,157,271

Total Payroll: $156,570,396

Top Player Percentage: 10.3%


The 18% threshold held true… until the 2010 and 2012 Giants, who had no problem handing a ton of cash to Barry Zito. The Yankees were close with A-Rod in ’09 and the Sox were close with Manny in ’04. I’m not sure I totally like this — just because you don’t commit 18% to one guy doesn’t mean you have a better shot at the title, right?

Still, it’s something to consider. If the Pirates are truly willing to go beyond their comfort zone, that could mean $15 or more million for Super Russ. I looked at a pretty basic overview of the potential 2015 payroll (and where Russ could fit) last month. Based on what is coming off the books (Martin + Liriano + Volquez + Barmes + Wandy = 29 mil) and what could go on in arbitration raises (19-20 mil, estimating), the Pirates could add around $10 million or so and keep the same payroll number they have right now (estimates around $75-80 million). Tack on the extra $5 million and you’re around $85 million — 15/85 = 17.6% … which is right in that 18% range.

A couple of things to consider:

– Martin won’t just be affecting the 2015 payroll. He’ll command a multi-year deal, so his contract would be a factor in ’16, ’17, etc. … You have to consider the players that will be in arbitration in those years; that’s when you must have a tremendous grasp on projections and player development. As much as I wish I work for the Pirates, I do not, so I don’t have my hands on such data and projections. I’m sure they know what they’re doing at 115 Federal and are considering all of this.

– Also, as Sawchik pointed out, the Bucs pay for future projected performance, not past performance. Russ is having an incredible year, but can he keep it up? They nailed it the first time around, feeling Martin’s defense alone was worth investing in. He won’t be as much of a bargain this time around, but if the Pirates are willing to shell out $15 million or so for Martin, they must feel pretty confident in the next few years of his career.

The question is, will they really go out of their comfort zone? I’m surprised that Neal said what he did. Now that he said it… I’ll be holding him to it. But I’ll believe it when I see it…

It’ll surely be an interesting offseason, with a few decisions to make and moving money around. But let’s watch some postseason baseball first and worry about this stuff later.

Go Bucs

Looking ahead to the 2015 payroll (and where Russell Martin could fit)

It’s a little early to already be looking ahead to next season, but this seems to be a pretty interesting topic these days. With Russell Martin hitting .290 with a .413 on-base percentage, while also throwing out 39% of base stealers and playing all-around solid baseball, more and more Pirate fans are joining the “Re-Sign Russell Martin” movement.

As always, it will come down to one thing: money. Let’s take a look at what the Pirates expect to take off their payroll, as well as what they’ll be adding in terms of salary increases, to see if they could fit Martin into the budget. Keep in mind that we don’t have the Pirates’ exact figures.


Subtractions

Here are the salaries that are coming off the payroll after this season:

Russell Martin: $8.5 million
Wandy Rodriguez: $7.5 million
Francisco Liriano: $6 million
Edinson Volquez: $5 million
Clint Barmes: $2 million
TOTAL SUBTRACTIONS: $29 million


Increase — Guaranteed Contracts

Here are the players with guaranteed contracts for 2015:

Charlie Morton: $4 million increase ($4 mil to $8)
Andrew McCutchen: $2.75 million increase ($7.25 mil to $10)
Jose Tabata: $1 million increase ($3 mil to $4)
Starling Marte: $0.5 million increase ($500K to $1)
TOTAL INCREASE, GUARANTEED CONTRACTS: $8.25 million


Increase — Arbitration Eligible Contracts

Here are the players set for arbitration in 2015:

Gaby Sanchez (Arb-3)
Jayson Nix (Arb-3)
Neil Walker (Arb-2)
Pedro Alvarez (Arb-2)
Ike Davis (Arb-2)
Mark Melancon (Arb-2)
Travis Snider (Arb-2)
Chris Stewart (Arb-2)
Vin Mazzaro (Arb-2)
Ernesto Frieri (Arb-2)
Vance Worley (Arb-1)
Tony Watson (Arb-1)
Jeanmar Gomez (Arb-1)
Josh Harrison (Arb-1)

The arbitration system is … very arbitrary. It’s hard to predict exactly how much of a raise each players will see — unless you’re Matt Swartz over at MLB Trade Rumors, who’s built a very accurate model for projecting such things. Still, you can put a guess on it and go from there.

Also, you have to consider other roster adjustments — i.e. non-tender candidates… I see no reason to tender a contract to Jayson Nix; Vin Mazzaro can’t even make the roster but is earning $950K this year, so he’s an easy non-tender candidate; Ernesto Frieri, assuming he isn’t claimed after being DFA’d a few days ago, is another one.

With that in mind, let’s play the guessing game. Of that list of players, Neil Walker and Pedro Alvarez are the two big names. However, arbitrators look at playing time as a big factor, and both of those guys are seeing fewer plate appearances these days — Walker’s physical health (appendectomy in June and now back spasms in August) and Alvarez’s mental health (yips) have them sidelined right now. This goes in the team’s favor a bit, though Walker is still having a great year (arbitrators love homers) and will get another nice raise.

Players who should see a moderate increase in salary ($1-2 million): Harrison and Watson as first year arb. guys coming off All-Star appearances, Melancon for being dominant again.

Players who don’t deserve it but will get a raise: Ike and Gaby.

Players who will see slight raises: Worley (possibly more than “slight” if he keeps it up), Snider, Stewart, Gomez.

Again, this is very arbitrary and we’ll have to just see what happens. But if you take that group of guys and make some guesses, you could see their collective salaries increase by about $12 million next season. Feel free to make your own estimates and let us know.


Subtractions from 2014: $29 million

Increases for 2015: approx. $20 million (guaranteed + estimated arbitration)

By this math, the Pirates’ could add around $9 million and sustain the same payroll budget they have right now.

This, of course, is a very rough guess due to the arbitration estimates. Still, it gives an idea of what the Pirates have to work with. As it stands right now, there would be a few holes: catcher, starting pitcher, backup infielder. Going in reverse order: it’s not hard to add a cheap backup infielder as we’ve seen them do in the last few days (Morel/Nix/Martinez type) and the Pirates love collecting them… Barmes’ reign is probably over; regardless of who fills the role, it will come on the cheap. Liriano & Volquez are hitting the free agent market, but the emergence of Vance Worley could leave a Cole – Morton – Locke – Worley – ??? rotation, with one spot to fill. And finally, catcher — the reason for this article. What will it take to get Russell Martin back?

Say they let Volquez/Liriano walk, fill the void with a Stolmy Pimentel or Brandon Cumpton type until Nick Kingham or Jameson Taillon (or even Adrian Sampson, who was promoted to Indy today) are ready to join the rotation. That means all $9 million-plus could be dedicated to Russ. A better way to do this is to look at the payroll a year or two down the line (since he’ll be looking for a multi-year deal, not just one) but that’s even harder to predict with salaries and moving parts. So will stick with the one year outlook for now.

Anyway, the emphasis there on the “plus.” It will take more than that annually to sign him, and it means the Pirates would have to add payroll.

In the past, Frank Coonelly has spoken about how the Pirates could sustain a payroll increase based on a pair of factors — 1) a more competitive team and 2) a better attendance record. It’s fairly obvious that they are a competitive team now. And the fans are showing up, too. Coonelly himself is publicizing the fact that they’re on pace to set the franchise’s all-time attendance record. They’ve averaged more than 33,000 fans per game during this homestand. They’re selling out all weekend games and seeing better weekday crowds. They’ll continue to get better attendance the rest of the season if the team stays in the race. The fans are certainly doing their part.

Basically, ticket sales have never been higher. Revenue is coming in. Not to mention the new TV deals that are kicking in, plus all the additional advertising revenue the Pirates are probably getting this season.

Bottom line: this club can seemingly stand to increase its payroll. And yes, with all that money coming off the books, there’s already room to work with. But I, along with many other Pirate fans, want to see them go above it and re-sign Russ.

This isn’t adding payroll just to add payroll. This is bringing back a guy who is currently enjoying one of his best offensive seasons to date, consistently works well on defense, has value to his teammates that goes beyond the stat sheet, and is clearly well-liked and well-respected.

Is it wise to go multiple years for a catcher on the wrong side of 30? Maybe not. But if there is a time to open the checkbook, this may be it. There are basically no other solid free agent catchers available. Is anyone thrilled with the thought of Tony Sanchez in 2015? This is a contending team, and it’s obvious what Martin has meant to them.

“The Pirates are cheap” phrase is thrown around a lot. Not always in the right situation. But if the Pirates go low on Martin, or miss out when another team gives him a fair price, then yeah, they’re being cheap. I can see a big market team like the Dodgers throwing a ton of money at him, something the Pirates simply won’t have a chance at matching. Huntington’s quote over the weekend (here and here) wasn’t inspiring. But there’s no reason why they shouldn’t hand him a fair offer. Tim Williams wrote today that if there’s one guy they should be willing to truly pay market value for, it’s Russ. I also liked this response from Dejan Kovacevic in his Tuesday chat on his new site:

[quote_simple]

Brenna: What odds do you have on the Pirates resigning Russell Martin?

DK: My odds remain squarely on the they’d-damned-well-better sentiment. I didn’t like any of what I heard from Neal Huntington on this topic over the weekend, especially that nonsense about how Tony Sanchez might be a suitable replacement. I also found it puzzling, in all honesty, that the GM has a policy of not discussing such things during the season but went on to actually paint a negative picture of how much the market might be willing to pay Martin.

There’s no way out of this one. I’ve tried hard to give credit and blame in the right places on this job, and the overwhelming share of the criticism of Bob Nutting is beyond absurd. But this one will be on the owner. He needs to step up here. Martin must stay.

[/quote_simple]

You can argue that the Pirates haven’t shown full commitment towards winning yet. But this upcoming decision on Martin will be the biggest sign of commitment yet. Can’t wait to see what happens.

Go Bucs

Pirates Trade Target: Jake Peavy

A few days ago, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe reported that he’d seen a familiar face at Fenway Park:

And on the same day, there was this:

And more later that night:

Huntington could have been there for any number of reasons. Maybe he was just visiting Red Sox GM — and his fellow UMass alum — Ben Cherington. But the speculation around this time of year is obviously that he was scouting players in advance of the upcoming trade deadline. Peavy seems to be the name, though Rob Biertempfel reported that the Pirates possibly could have been looking at Andrew Miller and/or Felix Doubront as well.

Peavy, a three-time All-Star, will be one of the more sought-after Red Sox at this trade deadline. It’s looking more and more like he’ll be traded and it may happen sooner rather than later, as the Boston Globe’s Pete Abraham wrote yesterday. The Sox have set up their second half rotation “designed with a trade in mind.” Boston could use the next nine days to engage in more trade talks, as Peavy won’t pitch again until next Tuesday, July 22nd (the same day Vance Worley will pitch for the Pirates).

He has $6 million left on his 2014 salary and “any trade could require the Red Sox to pick up much of that.”

The Pirates have had their eye on Peavy — they possibly talked to the Chicago White Sox about him around this time last year, at least according to John Perrotto.

Here are the numbers on the 33-year-old right-hander…

Year Age Tm W L ERA G IP H R ER HR BB SO ERA+ FIP WHIP BB9 SO9
2002 21 SDP 6 7 4.52 17 97.2 106 54 49 11 33 90 83 3.69 1.423 3.0 8.3
2003 22 SDP 12 11 4.11 32 194.2 173 94 89 33 82 156 96 4.99 1.310 3.8 7.2
2004 23 SDP 15 6 2.27 27 166.1 146 49 42 13 53 173 171 3.14 1.196 2.9 9.4
2005 ★ 24 SDP 13 7 2.88 30 203.0 162 70 65 18 50 216 134 2.89 1.044 2.2 9.6
2006 25 SDP 11 14 4.09 32 202.1 187 93 92 23 62 215 99 3.51 1.231 2.8 9.6
2007 ★ 26 SDP 19 6 2.54 34 223.1 169 67 63 13 68 240 158 2.84 1.061 2.7 9.7
2008 27 SDP 10 11 2.85 27 173.2 146 57 55 17 59 166 133 3.60 1.180 3.1 8.6
2009 28 TOT 9 6 3.45 16 101.2 80 41 39 8 34 110 115 2.99 1.121 3.0 9.7
2010 29 CHW 7 6 4.63 17 107.0 98 55 55 13 34 93 93 4.01 1.234 2.9 7.8
2011 30 CHW 7 7 4.92 19 111.2 117 61 61 10 24 95 88 3.21 1.263 1.9 7.7
2012 ★ 31 CHW 11 12 3.37 32 219.0 191 88 82 27 49 194 126 3.73 1.096 2.0 8.0
2013 32 TOT 12 5 4.17 23 144.2 130 70 67 20 36 121 99 3.96 1.147 2.2 7.5
2014 33 BOS 1 8 4.59 19 117.2 123 62 60 18 43 93 87 4.71 1.411 3.3 7.1
13 Yrs 133 106 3.57 325 2062.2 1828 861 819 224 627 1962 112 3.61 1.190 2.7 8.6
162 Game Avg. 14 11 3.57 34 216 192 90 86 23 66 206 112 3.61 1.190 2.7 8.6
W L ERA G IP H R ER HR BB SO ERA+ FIP WHIP BB9 SO9
SDP (8 yrs) 92 68 3.29 212 1342.2 1158 522 491 135 435 1348 119 3.47 1.186 2.9 9.0
CHW (5 yrs) 36 29 4.00 84 537.2 491 248 239 65 130 476 107 3.70 1.155 2.2 8.0
BOS (2 yrs) 5 9 4.39 29 182.1 179 91 89 24 62 138 92 4.38 1.322 3.1 6.8
AL (6 yrs) 41 38 4.10 113 720.0 670 339 328 89 192 614 103 3.87 1.197 2.4 7.7
NL (8 yrs) 92 68 3.29 212 1342.2 1158 522 491 135 435 1348 119 3.47 1.186 2.9 9.0
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/14/2014.

…which haven’t been too exciting in recent years.

His peak came with the Padres in 2007, when he was worth 5.9 wins above replacement and won the NL Cy Young Award. His ERA has inflated annually since then, finishing north of 4.00 in four of the past five years. A move back to the National League may help him. He excelled in the NL as a Padre, though that was already five seasons ago when he was in his prime.

If the rumors are true, it’s a little hard to see what they see in him. The Pirates seem to believe in the peripherals of pitchers who are struggling on the surface — hoping that a good ground ball rate, high strikeout rate, or a lower-than-ERA Fielding Independent Pitching will lead to future success (see Francisco Liriano, Edinson Volquez, among others). However, Peavy isn’t a ground ball guy … his strikeout rate has never been lower than it is right now (and he’s walking more, too) … and his FIP & xFIP haven’t shown many encouraging signs.

ERA- and FIP- adjust to a player’s ballpark as well as his league, making it easier to compare his numbers to the Pirates’ staff. The NL Central & PNC Park would provide a different environment than the AL East & Fenway Park. Here’s how his adjusted numbers rank:

To make sense of it, 100 is league average. A lower score is better — every point below 100 is lower than league average. Just as you want a lower ERA, you want a lower ERA-. So, Jeff Locke has been 19% better than league average per ERA- (and his FIP- isn’t far behind), while Jake Peavy has been 12% worse than league average.

Those numbers suggest that he wouldn’t be much of an upgrade over any pitcher besides Francisco Liriano, and perhaps Edinson Volquez based on FIP-. If the Pirates do decide to go after a starting pitcher (Peavy or otherwise), it’ll be interesting to see what they do with the rotation. A large factor will be Gerrit Cole‘s health.

Anyway, there are a few other things to consider, if the Pirates are actually interested in Peavy. One, as always, is the money factor. They could & would have the Red Sox help pay the remaining $6 mil on his contract — but that would require the Pirates to give up a better caliber player/prospect in return. Peavy also has a $15 million player option for 2015, but my understanding is that it won’t come into play. According to Baseball-Reference, he gets the “player option for 2015 if he 1) has 400 IP in 2013-14, including 190 IP in 2014, and 2) is not on the disabled list at the end of the 2014 season.” At this point, it would be physically impossible for him to reach 400 innings since 2013 if you look at the stats table above. I don’t think the option will come into effect, so he’s essentially a rental for the rest of the year.

Furthermore, there’s the injury factor. That’s the reason for next year’s player option in his contract, an incentive for him to stay healthy — which seems to be impossible for him. He’s had 13 injuries since the beginning of 2010 … since last season, he’s dealt with back spasms, a trunk fracture, a wrist contusion, finger tendonitis, and a finger laceration from a fishing accident.

If the Pirates and Red Sox team up at this deadline, it wouldn’t be the first time NH and his buddy Ben Cherington have made a deal. According to Hidden Vigorish’s handy Trader Neal Trade Tracker, Boston has been the Bucs’ most frequent trade partner since Huntington took over.

I don’t see the Pirates getting Peavy, but stranger things have happened. Maybe Neal knew the Cardinals and Brewers were interested in Peavy, and joined the fray to drive the price up. We’ll see what happens. The next two weeks will be fun but hectic, as they always are around the deadline.

Go Bucs

Pirates Drafting in the Neal Huntington Era

As a small market team with limited resources to acquire Major League talent, the First-Year Player Draft is absolutely vital for the Pittsburgh Pirates. The draft replenishes the minor league system with new talent, handing the keys to the player development staff to get these players prepped for The Show.

On Thursday, the Pirates will be drafting outside of the top 10 for the first time since 2005 (the year they took Andrew McCutchen at #11). The Bucs hold the 24th overall pick, thanks to their tremendous success in 2013 (and a few teams that lost first round picks to sign qualifying offer free agents). They’ll pick again at #39 (Competitive Balance Round A), thanks to the Miami Marlins and Sunday’s Bryan Morris trade, then at #64 (2nd round), #73 (Competitive Balance Round B), #100 (3rd Round), and so on.

Since his first draft with the team in 2008, Neal Huntington has been praised for having stronger drafts than the previous front office. After all, the draft is one of the primary reasons how & why Huntington & Co. took the Bucs’ farm system from one of the worst in MLB to one of the best. Here’s a breakdown of the Pirate drafts in the NH era…


Player Data

- High School vs. College

A big debate year in and year out: is it better to go the high school or college route when drafting young players? Prep players have a ton of upside and room to grow. College players are more mature, with the ability to jump onto the fast track to the big leagues.

The Pirates have generally leaned towards taking college players, though it has varied year-to-year. The breakdown:

High School College
2008 34% 66%
2009 41% 59%
2010 52% 48%
2011 48% 52%
2012 44% 56%
2013 24% 76%

pirates high school college drafting

There was a huge college focus in 2013. Both first round picks — Austin Meadows and Reese McGuire — came from high school backgrounds… then 31 of the last 39 were college guys.

The 2010 and 2011 drafts showed the most prep picks, headlined by names such as Jameson Taillon, Stetson Allie, Nick Kingham, Josh Bell, and Tyler Glasnow.

- Positional Breakdown

via Baseball-Reference Draft Tool

- 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013
RHP 15 21 27 16 17 16
LHP 6 13 5 5 5 4
C 2 4 3 3 4 4
1B 4 1 3 2 0 1
2B 0 1 1 2 3 2
3B 8 1 0 4 3 4
SS 5 3 3 5 4 3
“Infield” 0 0 1 0 0 0
“Outfield” 10 1 2 1 1 0
LF 0 3 1 2 1 0
CF 0 2 4 7 3 6
RF 0 1 0 3 0 1

pittsburgh pirates drafting by position

See “Reflections in the Farm System” below for thoughts on this distribution. 


Signed vs. Unsigned

pirates signed unsigned

Of course, not all players sign a contract with the organization. According to pirates.com, 153 of the 283 draftees (54%) have inked deals with the team since 2008. While most unsigned players fall in the later rounds, two highly rated players went unsigned recently: Tanner Scheppers – now with the Texas Rangers – second round in 2008, and everyone remembers Mark Appel in the first round two years ago.


Reflections in the Farm System

- Strengths

Right-Handed Pitching: As you can see in the charts above, the Pirates have selected a ton of right-handers — mostly tall, “projectable,” hard-throwing guys such as Taillon and Glasnow. Those two, as well as the likes of Nick Kingham and Clay Holmes, are within 1-2 years of the majors, meaning these pitching-heavy drafts could soon pay off for the Bucs.

Outfield: The Pirates have taken some talented outfielders over the years — Austin Meadows, Josh Bell, etc. — adding to their organizational outfield strength which already includes Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte, and Gregory Polanco.

- Weaknesses

Corner infield: Since drafting Pedro Alvarez with the second overall pick in 2008, the Pirates have not had success with corner infielders. Their top prospect at either first or third base is Stetson Allie — yes, he who was drafted as a pitcher and converted to a position player just two years ago. The inability to draft a first baseman has hurt the big league team for years, and there’s really nothing on the way.

Catching: Taking Reese McGuire in the first round last year turned this into a stronger area. However, he’s years away from the majors, and the Pirates really hadn’t taken an impact catcher since ’09 first rounder Tony Sanchez.

Middle Infield: Other than Jordy Mercer (3rd round, ’08), they haven’t signed many solid middle infielders. They added shortstops Trae Arbet and Adam Frazier in the fifth and sixth rounds last year, though both are struggling to hit thus far in 2014. Alen Hanson, signed out of the Dominican as a 16-year-old five years ago, is the team’s best bet up the middle in the near future, though it’s unclear if he’ll have the defense to play shortstop.


Conclusion

The draft has changed over the last five years — numbers of picks (from 50 to 40); allotted money for your draft pool (thanks in large part to the Pirates’ own binge-spending on Gerrit Cole and Josh Bell — but the importance has remained the same. The Pirates need to consistently find young talent that can make an impact in the organization, draft them, sign them, develop them — probably easier said than done.

Thursday begins another chapter and brings the next wave of talent. The draft starts at 7:00 pm and will air live on MLB Network for Round 1, Comp. A, Round 2, and Comp. B, meaning we’ll see four Pirate picks this evening. Rounds 3 through 10 will be held on Friday, then rounds 11 through 40 on Saturday.

Go Bucs

All data courtesy of Baseball-Reference and Pirates.com