2019 Pirates Player Projections

By Jason Shetler

The 2019 Pirates will have a lot of their players from last season returning this year. A few notable additions this offseason are outfielder Lonnie Chisenhall and pitcher Jordan Lyles, both of which were signed to one-year deals, as well as infielder Erik Gonzalez, who was acquired from the Cleveland Indians. Here are now are my player projections for the 2019 season. The players listed are only those who are expected to be on the Opening Day roster.

Position players 

Corey Dickerson: .280/.325/.460, 17 HR, 65 RBI, 2.5 WAR
Starling Marte: .275/.335/.450, 16 HR, 75 RBI, 3.5 WAR
Lonnie Chisenhall: .265/.345/.420, 6 HR, 45 RBI, 1.5 WAR
Colin Moran: .265/.340/.475/, 20 HR, 80 RBI, 3.0 WAR
Adam Frazier: .290/.360/.450/, 13 HR, 55 RBI, 3.0 WAR
Josh Bell: .270/.350/.440, 19 HR, 85 RBI, 2.0 WAR
Francisco Cervelli: .250/.355/.390, 8 HR, 50 RBI, 2.5 WAR
Elias Diaz: .260/.310/.410, 7 HR, 30 RBI, 1.0 WAR
Jung-Ho Kang: .255/.340/.445/, 9 HR, 35 RBI, 1.5 WAR
Erik Gonzalez: .245/.290/.400, 5 HR, 20 RBI, 0.5 WAR

Pitchers 

Jameson Taillon: 3.35 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 200 IP, 2.5 BB/9, 8.5 K/9, 4.0 WAR
Chris Archer: 3.60 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 180 IP, 3.0 BB/9, 9.0 K/9, 3.0 WAR
Trevor Williams: 4.40 ERA, 1.45 WHIP, 155 IP, 3.0 BB/9, 6.5 K/9, 1.5 WAR
Joe Musgrove: 3.20 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 190 IP, 2.0 BB/9, 8.0 K/9, 3.5 WAR
Jordan Lyles: 4.50 ERA, 1.55 WHIP, 100 IP, 3.0 BB/9, 7.5 K/9, 0.5 WAR
Richard Rodriguez: 3.55 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 75 IP, 3.0 BB/9, 9.5 K/9
Keone Kela: 3.35 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 70
 IP, 3.5 BB/9, 11.0 K/9
Kyle Crick: 3.75 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 65 IP, 4.0 BB/9, 9.5 K/9
Felipe Vazquez: 2.30 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 75 IP, 3.0 BB/9, 12.0 K/9

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Why Tyler Lyons Could Be a Great Addition for Pirates Bullpen

By Jason Shetler

p/c: Chris Trotman – Getty Images

While the Pittsburgh Pirates rotation was a real positive for them last season, you could argue that their bullpen was an even bigger strength. Led by closer/relief ace and 2018 All-Star Felipe Vazquez, the Pirates bullpen received contributions from the likes of Keone Kela, Kyle Crick, Richard Rodriguez and Edgar Santana. This offseason, the Bucs have added a few relievers for depth. One of them is Tyler Lyons.

Prior to joining the Pirates organization, Lyons had only been associated with the St. Louis Cardinals. Pitching mostly as a starter in the minors, he pitched in both roles in St. Louis, before ultimately being used exclusively as a reliever in 2016.

Lyons would like to forget about the 2018 season. In 27 appearances, he had an 8.64 ERA, along with a FIP of 5.02. Lyons struggled throwing strikes consistently, as his first pitch strike percentage was only 55%, while posting a career high 4.3 BB/9. He also had a difficult time keeping balls on the ground, putting up a 72% flyball rate. 

On July 27th, the Cardinals designated Lyons for assignment. He cleared waivers and was sent to AAA Memphis, where he spent the rest of the season. Entering the offseason, Lyons declared himself a free agent. The Pirates agreed to sign the 30-year-old lefty on New Year’s Day to a minor league deal, which includes a non-roster invite to Spring Training. Although Lyons is coming off a rough 2018, here’s why he could be a terrific addition for Pittsburgh.

Before last season, Lyons was one of the most reliable bullpen arms for St. Louis in 2016 and 2017. During those two seasons, he posted an ERA of 3.11, and performed near All-Star level, with a 136 ERA+. His WHIP was at 1.05, while his K/9 was 10.0. Opposing batters struggled to do much against his slider and changeup. Here are those figures. 

wOBA off the slider (2016-2017): .187

wOBA off the changeup (2016-2017): .174

Lyons was also phenomenal in high leverage situations in those two years, as the opposition managed just a .385 OPS against. Although he struggled last season, there are a couple things to point out. His K/9 was still impressive at 10.3, and he did have a .412 BABIP, which is a very unsustainable figure when it comes to allowing hits based on bad luck. Lyons will look to compete for a spot on the Pirates Opening Day roster during the Spring. He’s certainly capable of having a bounce back season, and if he does, he will provide an already solid Pirates bullpen with a quality left-handed arm.

 

 

 

 

 

Tyler Eppler to Pitch In Japan

By Jason Shetler

p/c: Adam Pintar

The Orix Buffaloes have announced that they have purchased former Pirates prospect Tyler Eppler. He has been signed to a one-year deal worth reportedly $600,000.

Eppler had been with the Pirates organization since 2014, this after being chosen as a sixth round selection out of Sam Houston State. The 26-year-old right-hander was one of the best control pitchers among prospects in the Pirates system. 

Prior to last season, Eppler had been left unprotected to the Rule 5 Draft. Despite this, he was not taken. Eppler spent the entire 2018 season pitching for AAA Indianapolis, where he posted a 3.59 ERA and a 1.30 WHIP in 153 innings, which were third most in the International League. 

This offseason, the Pirates didn’t protect Eppler from the Rule 5, but once again, he was not selected. Before having his contract purchased by Orix, he pitched in the Dominican Winter League, posting an ERA of 3.18 for Toros del Este. 

Eppler was likely going to join the Pirates at some point this season, but it was just a matter of whether that would be as a starter or reliever. Orix will give Eppler the opportunity to continue pitching as a starter. We’ve seen in more recent years where a pitcher has gone to Japan to make a name for himself and then return stateside to earn a good money deal, Miles Mikolas being an example, so perhaps Eppler could do the same.

 

 

 

 

2019 Pirates Breakout Player Watch: Joe Musgrove

By Jason Shetler

p/c: Gene J. Puskar – AP

The 2018 Pittsburgh Pirates were somehow able to have a winning record, as they finished 82-79. A big reason for the success was their pitching. In regards to the rotation, Jameson Taillon and Trevor Williams were both able to take a big step forward, while Chris Archer was acquired by the Bucs at the trade deadline. Another vital part of their rotation was Joe Musgrove.

After struggling as a starter with the Houston Astros in 2017, Musgrove appeared to be on the verge of a demotion to AAA, but Manager A.J. Hinch and GM Jeff Luhnow decided to keep him on the roster to pitch out of the bullpen. That decision paid significant dividends for Musgrove, as he not only revived his season as a reliever, but helped the Astros capture their first ever World Series title.

Last offseason, the Pirates dealt Gerrit Cole to Houston for a package that included Musgrove. Despite the good work he did in relief, GM Neal Huntington said that the club planned on him becoming a starter again. Musgrove sustained a shoulder injury during Spring Training, placing him on the DL and causing him not to be on the Opening Day roster.

On May 25th, Musgrove made his debut for the Pirates at PNC Park against the St. Louis Cardinals, tossing seven scoreless innings in the process. His season was shutdown in September due to an abdominal injury, which required surgery.

Overall, the 2018 season for Musgrove was a decent one, posting a 4.06 ERA, a 3.59 FIP and managed to be a two-win pitcher (2.1 fWAR) in 19 starts. He did a job limiting baserunners, with a WHIP of 1.18. When there were baserunners in scoring position, he was able to show the ability to strand runners, as opposing batters hit only .242 against him in those situations. Musgrove’s woes as a starter with Houston was mainly due to the inconsistency of his pitches, but those were much improved last year, specifically, the four-seam fastball and changeup. In fact, here are the opponents wOBA against from his four-seamer and changeup with Houston in 2017 compared to last season with Pittsburgh.

Four-seam fastball

2017 (Astros): .426 wOBA

2018 (Pirates): .305 wOBA

 

Changeup

2017: .432 wOBA

2018: .233 wOBA

Musgrove in general didn’t allow much hard contact, as the opposition had an 86.8 mph Exit Velocity off him, which was lower than the 2018 MLB average of 87.4 mph. He also got batters to chase out of the strikezone more last year, with a 38% O-Swing% (or chase rate) compared to just 32% in his two seasons for the Astros. 

Entering 2019, Musgrove will be the #4 starter in the Pirates rotation behind Taillon, Archer and Williams. He should be ready to go come Spring Training. If Musgrove can find a way to avoid the injury bug, as well as continue to improve his secondary offerings, then he should be the Pirates breakout performer this season.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2019 Pirates Breakout Prospect Watch: Gage Hinsz

By Jason Shetler

p/c: piratesprospects.com

Gage Hinsz certainly has one of the more interesting back stories among prospects currently in the Pirates system. Hinsz is from Montana, a state that isn’t known for producing much in terms of baseball talent. He attended Billings West High School, but what’s remarkable is that his high school didn’t even have a baseball team. Instead, he pitched for the Langley Blaze, a youth baseball team located in British Columbia, Canada.

The Pirates took Hinsz in the 2014 MLB Draft. Prior to that draft, he had a commitment to pitch at Oregon State, but decided to sign with the Bucs for $580,000, which is good money for an 11th round pick. The selection of Hinsz appeared to be a diamond in the rough, as Baseball America projected him as a sixth rounder.

After appearing in three games for the GCL Pirates in 2014, Hinsz spent the 2015 season with the Bristol Pirates, where he put up a 3.79 ERA in 38 innings pitched. Despite the decent ERA, he had control problems, posting a 5.4 BB/9. 

2016 was Hinsz’s first full season of pro ball, spending it with Low A West Virginia. In 17 starts for the Power, Hinsz posted an ERA of 3.66, while significantly cutting down on the walks, with a 2.4 BB/9. He showed an increase in fastball velocity that year, going from low-90’s to mid-90’s. 

Hinsz pitched all of 2017 at High A with the Bradenton Marauders. It was a struggle for him that season, as he had a 5.61 ERA in 94.2 innings of work. He also dealt with shoulder soreness. The strikeout figure was very low for Hinsz, as he only put up a K/9 of 4.9, however, that could be contributed to trying to pitch through the shoulder injury.

Shocking news hit the Pirates organization earlier this year, as it was reported by John Dreker of Pirates Prospects that Hinsz had to undergo open heart surgery to replace a defective valve. He of course missed the entire 2018 season, but baseball was obviously secondary at that point. After being fully recovered, Hinsz remarkably returned to the mound this year, pitching in the Puerto Rican Winter League for Gigantes de Carolina. His numbers there are sensational, as he’s posted a 1.08 ERA, a WHIP of 0.92, a 2.5 BB/9 and an 8.3 K/9 in five starts, making for perhaps the most phenomenal story this offseason.

Hinsz will begin next season either with Bradenton or AA Altoona. He turns 23 in April, so he still has time to develop into a top tier pitching prospect in the system. Throughout his minor league career, Hinsz has done pretty well keeping balls on the ground, posting a 47% groundball rate, which is a combination of a good curveball, as well as being able to throw on a downhill plane. If Hinsz can continue to throw strikes consistently, rack up strikeouts like he has in the PRWL, and most importantly, stay healthy, then he should be able to take a big step forward in 2019. 

 

 

 

 

Cole Tucker Listed as a 2019 Breakout Prospect

By Jason Shetler

p/c: MiLB.com

On Saturday, MLB Pipeline released a list of prospects from each team that could become breakout performers next season. Getting that nod for the Pirates is Cole Tucker. 

Tucker came into this year playing for AA Altoona, and spent the entire season with the Curve. The Bucs fifth overall prospect posted only a .689 OPS, but did manage to put up a career best 184 total bases in 133 games. 

This year’s Arizona Fall League featured seven Pirates prospects, with Tucker being one of them. He was able to stand out against some of the top pitching prospects in the game, posting a stellar on base percentage of .442, which was fourth highest in the AFL, while drawing free passes at a 12.9% clip. 

Tucker will enter 2019 in just his age 22 season, and looks to use his AFL showing as a springboard for the AAA level with Indianapolis. Given that the Pirates will likely address the need for a shortstop this offseason, Tucker probably won’t see time with the big club until September when the roster expands.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Case for Pirates Using The Opener

By Jason Shetler

Baseball has had its different trends over the years. The most popular in particular is the amount of infield shifting that teams incorporate. Others of note are using your best hitter in second spot of the lineup, instead of what traditionally was third, and closers/relief aces pitching in high leverage spots before the ninth rather than just being reserved for a save opportunity.

Another trend that began to take shape in 2018 was “The Opener”. The Tampa Bay Rays became the poster child for this sabermetric strategy. On May 19th, the Rays had Sergio Romo begin the game. Before this, Romo made 588 career relief appearances without making a start. The Rays wound up winning 90 games this year, with The Opener playing a part, as they were 34-26 when using it.

While a few other teams experimented with The Opener during the season, Oakland Athletics Manager Bob Melvin decided to use it for the American League Wild Card Game versus the New York Yankees. Liam Hendriks was given that assignment, but unfortunately for him and the A’s, it didn’t pan out.

During the Winter Meetings last week, Pirates GM Neal Huntington floated the idea of using The Opener in 2019. The comments came after the Bucs traded Ivan Nova to the Chicago White Sox in an effort to dump salary. The Pirates rotation currently consists of Jameson Taillon, Chris Archer, Trevor Williams and Joe Musgrove. According to Huntington, newly signed Jordan Lyles will have the “inside track” as the fifth starter. Other candidates for that spot will be Nick Kingham, who is out of options, and presumably Steven Brault. Now it’s time to make the case on why I think they should go with The Opener instead.

Despite a winning season in 2018, the Pirates had their troubles of having clean first innings. In fact, they allowed more runs in the first inning than any other this past season. Although he will be the frontrunner to be the fifth starter, Jordan Lyles had numerous chances in the past as a starter, and struggled each time. Nick Kingham was a big reason why the Pirates allowed so many first inning runs, and I’m not sure if Steven Brault is a viable rotation option. 

The main concept behind The Opener is maximizing opportunities to limit runs with quality relievers, as opposed to a fifth starter, who are normally average to below average pitchers. The Pirates certainly have the bullpen arms for it, with the likes of Keone Kela, Kyle Crick, Richard Rodriguez and even Felipe Vazquez. For a Pirates team that has four good starters in their rotation, implementing The Opener as the fifth option would potentially increase the chances of winning more games next season.