Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Newsletter Excerpt, "Season Preview 2023: #30 - #25"

This is a preview of the Joe Sheehan Baseball Newsletter, an e-mail newsletter about all things baseball, featuring analysis and opinion about the game on and off the field from the perspective of the informed outsider. Joe Sheehan is a founding member of Baseball Prospectus and has been a contributor to Sports Illustrated and Baseball America. He has been writing about baseball for 25 years.

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26. Pittsburgh Pirates (66-96, 637 RS, 779 RA, fourth in National Central)

I never shut up about the importance of having a championship-caliber core, a group of four to six players that will produce 20-25 WAR, preferably at below-market rates. You have to develop at least some of your own core just to make the math work.

For the first time in a decade, the Pirates are building a core. Bryan Reynolds is the oldest of the group, at 28, and controlled for three more seasons. Ke’Bryan Hayes is a great third baseman, still a question mark at the plate, and a four-win player at 26. Oneil Cruz could be anything, with perhaps the widest floor/ceiling combination in the game. He’s 24 this year. Throw in Mitch Keller, Roansy Contreras, and David Bednar, and the Pirates start the year with, if not a championship-caliber core, the framework for a contender’s core.

Behind that group is one of the game’s top prospects in 2022 #1 pick Termarr Johnson, and three others in Endy Rodriguez, Quinn Priester, and Henry Davis, the first two of which could return from their minor-league assignments swiftly. Rodriguez is a fascinating player, a catcher by trade whom the Pirates, because of the presence of overall #1 pick Davis, have started to develop as a utility player. Rodriguez has done nothing but hit since the lost season, racking up a .323/.407/.590 line as a 22-year-old at high-A, Double-A, and Triple-A last year, with just a 19% strikeout rate.

The Pirates, like most teams we’re covering today, added veteran ballast this offseason to provide the illusion of activity in December while not doing much for the team in May. The hope is that the likes of Carlos Santana and Andrew McCutchen and Rich Hill will be pushed aside by the young players soon. The Pirates will begin raising the Jolly Roger a lot more once that happens.

The Upside: The flashes shown by Cruz, Keller, and Contreras are real, Rodriguez and Priester arrive in June, and the Pirates spend most of the year with a shot at a playoff berth before finishing 82-80.

The Downside: Cruz can’t outrun his strikeout rate, Hayes’s bat never gets going, and the thin bullpen behind Bednar creates a lot of 6-4 losses in April and May. Reynolds is traded in July, and the Pirates stumble to another 62-100 season.

Random Player CommentJT Brubaker is 29 years old, with a career 4.99 ERA and a WAR just a hair above replacement level. He’s also been more popular in Bradenton this month than sunscreen and early-bird specials, striking out 37% of the batters he’s faced with a 26/3 K/BB. Law flagged him as a breakout; he just needs to be average to help this Pirates team. Last year, Brubaker traded his weak four-seamer for a sinker, and his continued emphasis on the two-seamer and an effective slider should make him a credible #3.