The newest Pittsburgh starter had a tremendous first start, but Ray Searage and the Pirates can't declare victory yet.
Juan Nicasio was the story of the Pirates’ spring, the latest (and maybe greatest!) reclamation project to come to Pittsburgh with his career hanging by a thread and immediately assert himself as a potential star. While the Ray Searage hype that encircles this team remains overblown, there’s nothing fake about the phenomenon that is Pittsburgh’s run prevention machine, and one cog in that machine is responsible for selecting, acquiring and rehabilitating pitchers who have considerable talent that the market has underestimated, or overlooked altogether. Nicasio, whom the Dodgers non-tendered this winter for roster-crunch reasons, is a perfect fit for the mold, and it’s no surprise that he thrived upon arrival.
Now that spring and its meaningless chatter has given way to the regular season, and now that we have one start (a whole start! Truly a rich cornucopia of information) of Nicasio to consider more seriously, let’s test the idea that something new is happening—that Nicasio is really a reinvented stud. All of this pitch data is drawn from the inimitable, invaluable Brooks Baseball.
The rest of this article is restricted to Baseball Prospectus Subscribers.
Not a subscriber?
Click here for more information on Baseball Prospectus subscriptions or use the buttons to the right to subscribe and get access to the best baseball content on the web.
No, really: The Pirates' roster turnover won't change what they do.
The Pirates’ Opening Day lineup in 2015 had Pedro Alvarez at first, Neil Walker at second, Jordy Mercer at shortstop, and Josh Harrison at third. Two of those players, Alvarez and Walker, are gone, and Harrison will move to second base after starting there 67 times in his major-league career (57 last season). Only Mercer at short will be a holdover. Yet despite 75 percent positional turnover, there’ll be a constant: The Pirates infielders will shift a lot.
Anticipating the disasters that will befall this year's rotations.
Each of the past two seasons, Sam Miller or I have done this fun bit of analysis that looks at which teams would fare best if they had to resort to their sixth and seventh starters (2014, 2015). Obviously, every GM needs to fill out the top five slots in his rotation, but that’s just the bare minimum. Over the course of the season, nearly two-thirds of teams will have two starters injured at the same time, meaning fans will get acquainted with sixth, seventh, and possibly even eighth and ninth starters.
As spring training ramps up, injuries are inevitable. So it makes sense for teams to assess their options now, just in case something goes awry before the real games start.
The Pirates' pitching guru is a free agent next winter, while an AL East team wants to ship Andrew Cashner across the country.
Ray Searage wants to stay with Pirates beyond 2016
Next offseason’s free agent pitching market might pale in comparison to the bonanza that teams were treated to over the past couple of months, but the market for pitching coaches could feature a marquee name.
Ron Cook of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette wrote Sunday about the value of the Bucs’ pitching coach, Ray Searage, who is widely regarded as one of the game’s best teachers, able to extract maximum value out of arms who come to the Steel City with middling reputations. General manager Neal Huntington is able to rummage through the bargain bin, confident that every pitcher he finds will exceed expectations because, as Cook put it, “Ray will make him better.” But Huntington is only guaranteed that comfort for one more year, because Searage’s contract expires at the end of the 2016 season.
Your favorite team could trade for Mark Melancon and Todd Frazier. What a time to be alive!
Pirates would move Mark Melancon in the “right deal”
After seeing the Red Sox pay the Padres a king’s ransom for Craig Kimbrel and the Astros do the same to the Phillies for Ken Giles, teams with high-end closers to offer are doubtless intrigued by the possibility of cashing them in for a bevy of prospect talent. The Pirates boast the defending major-league saves leader, Mark Melancon, who capped off 51 Pittsburgh victories in 2015 and is entering his final season of arbitration eligibility. General manager Neal Huntington told reporters Monday that while the team is planning to keep both Melancon and top setup man Tony Watson, the former could be available to teams willing to pay through the nose.
With free agency on the horizon after the coming year, Melancon wouldn’t command the same sort of package that Kimbrel—extension through 2017 with a 2018 club option—or Giles—under team control through 2020—did, but the 30-year-old has the whole “proven closer” thing going for him, and the trade-market supply is rapidly dwindling. Two names are already off the board, and a third, Aroldis Chapman, might be untouchable for all the wrong reasons, with domestic-violence accusations casting a shadow over his character and uncertainty over his availability for part of the 2016 season.