Will putting Starling Marte at the top of Pittsburgh's order pay off?
Neal Huntington has taken a curious approach over the past year to fixing his lineup. At the trade deadline Huntington netted a collection of irksome veteran hitters with uses during their upswings and too many downswings to overlook. The rationale explanation—and an understandable one, at that—was Huntington had no desire to spare his best prospects while chasing fleeting odds at the postseason. The offseason has since come and gone and few positional player additions were made. Two new faces are expected to make the opening day roster in Russell Martin and Brandon Inge: veterans known for their gloves. Pardon Pirates fans for not sitting rapt in anticipation to see the same group that has scored the fifth-fewest runs in the league since 2011. What makes Huntington's gambit riskier is the status of the one pure upside play in his lineup: Left fielder Starling Marte.
Though Marte predates Huntington in the organization—having been signed by the previous regime months earlier—the Dominican Republic native is a testament to the Huntington regime's patience, and one of the first big-league-ready talents emerging from Pittsburgh's praiseworthy international efforts. The tools-laden perpetual breakout candidate broke out and appeared three times on Kevin Goldstein's prospect lists on the way to making his big-league debut last season. Even now, as a 24-year-old, Marte remains a fascinating talent.
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The Pirates are in the midst of a late-season swoon much like their freefall from last season, but Pittsburgh fans still have at least nine reasons to smile.
Last year, the Pirates held sole possession of first place in the NL Central as late as July 19th, claimed a share of first place as late as July 25th, and had a record over .500 as late as August 1st. On the next day, August 2nd, their record fell to .500, and their playoff odds flatlined. After that, there was no more good news. The only question was how far they would fall.
The answer? About as far as a team can fall in two months. The Pirates went 8-22 in August and 10-16 in September. They finished in fourth place, which was better than sixth, where they finished the year before. They won 72 games, which was better than 57, their total from 2010. It was progress, and while the end result was a losing season no better than some of the 18 before it, there were more than the usual amount of good days along the way. Still, the season ended on a sour note.
Ten players who took the long route from top prospect to major-league contributor this year.
With over a month remaining in the regular season, Mike Trout’s campaign already looks like it might be remembered as the best ever recorded by a rookie. But Trout’s 2012 may have another lasting legacy: spoiling future rookie seasons for the rest of us. While watching Trout run roughshod over opposing AL pitchers, it’s easy to forget how rare it is for first-year players to be stars, let alone leading MVP candidates. However, it takes time for most young players (including Trout himself last season) to find their footing: only one other rookie, 26-year-old Yoenis Cespedes, has amassed even a third of the value of the Angels’ outfielder this year.
Even highly rated rookies usually struggle in their initial exposure to big-league pitching, and those who find success at first often suffer in their second trips around the league or in their sophomore seasons, as opponents start to exploit their weaknesses. Some of them recover quickly from these setbacks. Others take years to adjust, and many never put together the production that was expected of them.
This year's Pirates haven't crumbled like last year's Pirates, and the reasons why start with team defense.
With a 7-6 win over the Diamondbacks on Wednesday night, the Pirates ran their record to 63-47, pulling within 2 ½ games of Cincinnati in the NL Central. They remain tied with Atlanta atop the NL Wild Card standings. If the season ended today, the Pirates would be a playoff team. That’s not something we’ve been able to say very often after April in the last 20 years.
Last year at this time, the Pirates were in mid-free fall, fresh off a 10-game losing streak that put them under .500 for good. This year, that collapse isn’t coming. Pittsburgh’s 2011 team had a -39 run differential on this date last season, but this year’s edition has outscored its opponents by 35 runs. The Pirates haven’t played as well as their record would indicate, which explains why their playoff odds still sit below 60 percent. But even if their two-decade postseason appearance drought does go on a little longer, their streak of consecutive sub-.500 seasons is about to end.
Pedro Alvarez's big-league career hasn't begun quite as the Pirates hoped it would, but will his future be more like Brad Eldred's or Jose Bautista's?
Believe it or not, most of our writers didn't enter the world sporting an @baseballprospectus.com address; with a few exceptions, they started out somewhere else. In an effort to up your reading pleasure while tipping our caps to some of the most illuminating work being done elsewhere on the internet, we'll be yielding the stage once a week to the best and brightest baseball writers, researchers and thinkers from outside of the BP umbrella. If you'd like to nominate a guest contributor (including yourself), please drop us a line.
Pat Lackey is the writer, editor, chief scientist, and head brewmaster of Where Have You Gone, Andy Van Slyke?, a blog that's been chronicling the peaks and valleys of Pittsburgh Pirate fandom since 2005. He has been a grad student for more than half of that time. You can find him on Twitter @whygavs, where he'll be more than happy to talk about pretty much anything, including, but not limited to: baseball, Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh baseball, good science fiction, bad science fiction, just fiction in general, beer, making beer, and comic books. No, he has not set a defense date yet.
Alvarez is 1-for-19 to start the season, but are the images as ugly as the numbers?
Later tonight, the Pirates will take on the Diamondbacks. Pittsburgh is unlikely to start Pedro Alvarez because Joe Saunders is scheduled to take the mound for Arizona. Alvarez as a platoon player isn’t what the Pirates envisioned for him back on Draft Day 2008, but the reality is more grim. There are slow starts, and then there are 1-for-19-with-12-strikeout starts. Why is Alvarez floundering? I went back and reviewed his at-bats while taking some notes.
Developments in the battle royale between just about everyone in the baseball industry.
It really was the statement heard 'round the world, as from the time of its release until the end of the day, my phone has been burning in non-stop discussions with teams, agents, players, and other members of the media all looking to talk about the Pedro Alvarez situation. The statement issued by the Pirates is very strong in tone, and tells us quite a bit in only 575 words. We all know that Pittsburgh team president Frank Coonelly has a close relationship with the commissioner's office, and the document almost sounds as if it came straight from New York. Let's take a word by word look at it, and talk about what is actually known, what is merely rumored, and what may eventually happen.