Steve DiMiceli (SD): As nerdy as Kevin and I are, we seem to both lack the skills necessary for actual podcast production. Fear not TPOPers, we’ve come up with a solid work around. Now, you can enjoy this podcast without all those modern conveniences like downloading and listening on your commute. Of course, we’ll save you some data on your plan.
Kevin Creagh (KC): No one is really clamoring to hear my terrible voice anyway, Steve.
SD: I don’t think Kevin and I will disagree that this season was a disappointment, even for someone like myself who saw a transition year coming. While the Pirates were able to compete deep into the season, they never seemed to get over the hump. They also had questionable success integrating young talent into the lineup. They didn’t get as much out of Tyler Glasnow as they may have expected, and they underutilized Josh Bell due to defense anxiety. I’ve always been a big believer that the bat is greater than glove at first base, so I thought holding him back was silly and hurt the team.
KC: But man…Bell’s defense is…woof. It’s bad. Just watching him throw the ball around the infield after making an out is odd. He’s constantly short-arming the ball. And a ball hit to him in the outfield is an adventure. I don’t think his bat has enough power to justify the losses on defense. Yes, the on-base will be good, but I don’t think low-to-mid teens in homers is going to offset it. As for the team itself, they just had no magic this year. Last year, they had 11 walkoff wins; this year it was just four. Last year, you never turned your TV off or left the game early, as anything could happen. This year, if they were down in the 9th inning, you were fine to flip the channel.
SD: There aren’t a lot of teams that win World Series built around their first base defense, but there are quite a few that I can think of that managed to win rings with a crap glove there. I think Bell has a ton of power but it may translate to more doubles than homeruns. That said, I think he’ll have a few season where he knocks close to 30 out. He’s still got some developing to do and I think his hit tool will eventually play up.
Not only could the team not get it going late in games, it also seemed like they could never get over the hump. They’d streak, tie for the wild card and then collapse. Of course, that could be a function of falling too far behind initially.
SD: I think the season really derailed on two things. First, the rotation never really took shape and second, the team really didn’t get a star performance from anyone capable of providing one. On the pitching, it’s never a good sign when you start the season with five different pitchers in the rotation than you finish it. It was, for lack of a better way of saying it, an absolute dumpster fire.
KC: That’s really amazing in regards to the totally different rotation at the end of the year. I guess Francisco Liriano just has a certain shelf life before he tunes out the coaching. I wish him no ill will, but he really torpedoed this season. With Cole struggling, he could have stepped up and fronted the rotation. Instead, he’s enjoying Tim Horton’s on Yonge Street. I thought at the start of the year that Niese could have held the fort until Glasnow was ready (Taillon wasn’t even on my radar to be so ready for the Majors), but instead he was a total failure.
SD: I qualify anyone who posts a five plus fWAR as a star performance. I think the Pirates started the year with seven players capable of star performance, but not only did Cole underperform, but Starling Marte, Andrew McCutchen, Gregory Polanco and Jung-ho Kang all fell short. While they are longer shots for elite performances, Liriano and Josh Harrison have both performed at that level in the past, and neither was even close. The Pirates had plenty of depth to supplement the top players, but IMO, the best players still let them down.
KC: Yeah, when McCutchen/Cole/Liriano all are either injured and/or drastically underperforming, it’s a miracle that the Pirates were in the playoff mix until mid-August.
SD: The good news: I do think the team has enough talent to rebound next year. It wouldn’t be the first time a solid team struggles and misses the playoffs only to come back strong the next year. Washington missed the playoffs last year and the Giants went 76 – 86 in 2013 before winning the World Series in 2014. San Francisco also finished outside the playoffs in 2011 before topping the Tigers for a championship the following season. I don’t think a losing season this year means the Pirates are down for the count.
KC: I agree. The skeleton for a playoff team is here, but Neal Huntington has his work cut out in order to put some muscle on that skeleton. The rotation is Cole and Taillon and a whole bunch of question marks. Kuhl could be the #5, but if they can upgrade over him and put him in the bullpen that would be a positive. I think the Pirates really need to package some minor league talent together and get a legitimate #2-level pitcher on the trade market this offseason. I will continue to beat the drum for Jose Quintana. As for the bats, I think McCutchen will rebound, perhaps not to MVP-level, but a solid 4-5 WAR level. Cervelli has to have better injury luck next year. I also think Kang will be better with a clear head and hope that Polanco will not collapse in the second half. Replacing the bench is an impossible proposition, given how great it was this year, but we’ll see.
SD: I see Kuhl as a future #4. The sinker’s solid, the slider is decent, and he seems like he’d getting more comfortable with the change. If he can mix it in 10-20% of the time I think he’ll be better than expected. I think he’s wasted in the pen. I think they could cobble together some kind of five between Steven Brault, Trevor Williams or Glasnow especially if they trade for a legit two as you suggest. Not sure how available Quintana will be given the Chris Sale weirdness and the White Sox general refusal to actively rebuild. I’d actually like to see them try to work their magic on Andrew Cashner and maybe trade for a reasonably safe three. Jake Odorizzi comes to mind, but I’m sure the Rays would be looking for the motherload.