A Closer Look: Pittsburgh Pirates

Welcome to a new offseason series where I’ll be taking a closer look at all 30 teams via six different categories, all of which should be self-explanatory in terms of what they’ll cover: 3 Questions, Riser, Faller, A Move to Make (Signing or Trade), Playing Time Battle, and Prospect Contributors for 2020 (1 hitter/1 pitcher). I took all 30 teams and randomized the order since I couldn’t decide on an order myself. The Pirates are leading off!

3 QUESTIONS

What does Josh Bell do for an encore?

Only a groin injury could slow Bell’s massive power breakout. He put together a .946 OPS through five months before limping to the finish line with just 11 games and an .803 OPS. While his 2019 was a massive surge from 2018, it wasn’t the first time he showed capable power (.211 ISO in ’17) and he’s always had a strong plate approach (career 19% K, 12% BB) so I don’t see a major falloff even if the ball changes. I see 27-32 HR, a .275 AVG, and 90+ R/RBI.

Can Gregory Polanco finally stay healthy and breakthrough?

Polanco’s 2018 might already be his breakout (23 HR, 12 SB, 123 wRC+ in 535 PA), but even that season was shortened to 130 games, so his proponents are still holding out hope for a season like that or better in 150 games. Six IL stints over the last three seasons and a major shoulder issue this past season make it hard to see a particularly bright future here. He’ll be priced to buy in 2020, but a 20/10 ceiling feels right.

Is Chris Archer done as a viable fantasy starter?

Things came to a head for Archer last year as his walk and home run rates spiked resulting in a hideous 5.19 ERA and 1.41 WHIP in 119.7 innings. The second half of his season wasn’t quite as bad with a 4.42 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, and 31% K offers some hope, especially the strikeouts, but if 4.42/1.29 is what we’re looking forward to, then yeah he kinda is done as a viable option in 10- and 12-team leagues. 15-teamers might find some streaming value. I will be eager to see what a new pitching coach in Pittsburgh can do for Archer and a with price at pick-250 or later, he might be a decent late round gamble.

THE RISER

Joe Musgrove

Two particularly awful months sunk Musgrove’s season with an 8.10 ERA in May and 6.27 in August. He posted a 2.85 ERA in the other four months. Of course, if you slice off the worst two months of many pitchers, they get a helluva lot better. That said, I am encouraged when a pitcher was held back by 4-5 bad starts as opposed to persistent mediocrity.

Musgrove has shown he can be great for extended periods of time. If he can cut the 6+ ER outings (two 6s, two 8s), he doesn’t need a drastic skill change to hit another level. The strikeouts and walks are already solid and his swinging strike rate continues to suggest even more Ks could be on the way.

THE FALLER

Bryan Reynolds

Reynolds enjoyed a fantastic debut season with a .314 AVG, 16 HR, 83 R, 68 RBI, and 3 SB in 546 PA. I don’t see him completely falling off into obscurity, but even if you buy him as a quality line drive hitter who will maintain an above average BABIP, hit .387 mark is still set to come down. Consider that in the last five years, we’ve seen just 10 seasons with a .380 BABIP or better and nobody has two of them.

Of the 83 seasons at .350 BABIP or better, 15 guys have repeat entries. I do believe Reynolds should remain a batting average asset, but I see him more in the .280s range with a mid-teens homer output. Sometimes the Faller in these Closer Look pieces isn’t going to be more of a dip than a complete meltdown. Think of Reynolds as a present day Melky Cabrera, solid if unspectacular.

A MOVE TO MAKE

Sign Martín Pérez

The Pirates won’t be aggressive in the market and Perez is one of several similar SPs they could sign to help lengthen their rotation. The 29-year old lefty generated some buzz in Spring Training with a new cutter and even carried a 2.95 ERA through his first 11 starts, but his final 21 starts were mired with inconsistency, yielding a 6.29 ERA in that period and putting his final mark at 5.12 for the year. He needs something to stifle righties more effectively, but in the meantime, a friendlier home park and league might help him push back into the mid-4.00s like his 2015-17 (4.57 in 462.3 IP).

PLAYING TIME BATTLE(S)

Closer: Kyle Crick, Keone Kela, Richard Rodriguez

While any of the three righty relievers could capably handle the ninth inning role, I’d favor Kela going into the offseason. He lost two months to shoulder inflammation, but then returned with an incredible 0.50 ERA, 0.83 WHIP, and 32% K rate in the second half. He pitched the ninth in his final four outings, though only one was a save opportunity (and he converted it).

Crick and Rodriguez have big arms that generate consistent whiffs, but both struggled to follow up on excellent 2018 seasons as home runs become a big issue in 2019 (1.8 for Crick, 1.9 for Rodriguez). So why did I pick a PT battle that I don’t really seeing being that big of a battle? Mainly because I just didn’t see another fantasy-relevant battle developing right now. A lot of the other teams will have much tighter PT battles in their Closer Look profiles.

PROSPECT CONTRIBUTORS FOR 2020

Hitter: Ke’Bryan Hayes | Third Base

The team’s top prospect is also a top 15 prospect overall, though his fielding drives a good bit of that making him one of those prospects who can fool fantasy folks. His bat-to-ball skills drive the offensive profile. It was a bummer to see him hit just 10 HR even with the juiced Triple-A ball, though Kiley and Eric suggested that he could develop some extra pop down the line. Don’t overdraft here.

Pitcher: Mitch Keller

Keller dropped a spot to #3 in the Pirates org over the summer after being passed by Oneil Cruz, but he remains a top 50 prospect at #45. He had a hideous 7.13 ERA in his 11-start MLB sample, but his 3.19 FIP and 3.78 SIERA paint a clearer picture of his skills. His 22% K-BB rate was fantastic, but an obscene .475 BABIP drove his 13.5 H/9 and he left just 60% of his runners on base. A mid-90s heater and two useful breaking balls give the 24-year old righty a foundation to build on. Nick Pollack has been a big Keller proponent and it’s not hard to see why, especially since he’ll be a very low-cost option. He went 313th on average in the Too Early Mocks and even with a wave of hype, should definitely remain a consistent 200-or-later pick.

UP NEXT: Seattle Mariners

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Paul is the Editor of Rotographs and contributes to ESPN's Daily Notes. Follow Paul on Twitter @sporer and on Twitch at sporer.

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