The Mad Prof’s Voyage to Pittsburgh
Avast, ya scurvy dogs… Ya gotta love this team and ya gotta love its history. Early on, the Bucs handed the first World Series victory to the Boston Red Sox baseball club in 1903. This is the team of Roberto Clemente, Willie Stargell, Manny Sanguillen, Doc Ellis…and is this not a ballpark?
Pittsburgh is young, talented, exciting…and a small market team stuck in a division with St. Louis and Chicago. There is talent all over this team, yet the gaps on the roster ensure that they will finish second or third in the division. They will be far ahead of Milwaukee and Cincinnati. But since the Cubs look like they are finally serious about winning the World Series and St. Louis is always tough, the Pirates will be, at best, a wild card threat.
Around the horn we go…
Francisco Cervelli – Managed to stay healthy in 2015 and racked up 451 plate appearances. He did not demonstrate much in the way of power. But his BA at the catcher position is nothing to sniff at. He’s a decent option as a #2 catcher.
1B. John Jaso/Michael Morse – This is a weak spot in the lineup. Jaso is a health risk. Morse had a brief display of formidable power back when he was with Washington, but his numbers have fallen every year since. Not much to bid on here. If you are in a dynasty or keeper league, you might throw a buck at minor league prospect Josh Bell. He probably is a season away. In 490 AB in the minors, he has an OPS of 0.838. He needs reps more than he needs a quick promotion. But, with the hole at 1B, he could find opportunities in the Show late in the season if Pittsburgh falters. Regardless, Bell is a longer term investment and the Pirates should not have to hurry him.
2B. Josh Harrison had what seems to be a career year in 2013 when he had 13 HR, 52 RBI, 18 SB and a 315 BA. His speed is real and he can score runs. But his value will depend on his place in the lineup. Still, if you are spending your money elsewhere, he’s a pretty solid late rounder for 2B, especially if he delivers steals.
SS. Jordy Mercer is serviceable, but there is very little to spend on here. He has the tools (81% contact rate), but needs to convert grounders into line drives. Not a horrible endgame option.
3B. Jung Ho Kang had a great season in 2015, until he tore his meniscus. He was a 29-year-old “rookie” import from Korea, who got off to a slow start, but demonstrated solid skills. In fantasy terms, he also offers value because he may also qualify at SS and 2B. Still, age, uncertainty of injury recovery (as of this writing, he is still moving carefully in spring training), and the lack of experience make you want to invest carefully. But this is a serviceable skill set with potential rewards, especially if he can play 2B or SS on your roster. Until he returns, Sean Rodriguez is next on the depth chart. Hope Kang recovers quickly. But, for now, it looks like he may start the season on the DL…
OF. Starling Marte, Andrew McCutcheon and Gregory Polanco comprise an outstanding young outfield. They have power and speed and are all legitimate 5 tool stars. McCutcheon has been outstanding for years and is still only 29. He is a legitimate threat to break 300 and hit 25+ HR, 90 RBI and steal 20 bases. Marte boasts the same skill set with 30 SB speed. Bid on either of these guys with confidence and bid the extra buck.
If Gregory Polanco is the weak link in your OF, you have good problems. He possesses 30 SB speed and an 81% contact rate. At 24, he is the baby in the outfield. His trajectory is upward. Definitely a breakout candidate and worthy of $20+.
Starting Pitching – The staff is anchored by the 25-year-old Gerritt Cole. He is a lock for 190+ Ks, a legitimate threat to win 20 games and has a skill set to challenge for the Cy Young Award (were it not for the likes of Kershaw, Bumgarner, Scherzer & Co.). He does not walk many and strikes out a batter an inning. Bid with 99% confidence. Keep an eye on him as the Spring progresses. He has a rib injury, but reports indicate that he will be on track to start on Opening Day. If he does not, Pittsburgh has full confidence in handing the first ball to Francisco Liriano.
Francisco Liriano has averaged 170 K and 12 W over the last three years. In that time his ERA has been 3.36, 3.38, 3.38. That is quality consistency at the #2 spot in the rotation. He’s 32 and not likely to get any better. But he also probably won’t get the respect he deserves on draft day. Get him at a discount and smile.
The #3, 4 and 5 starters will not threaten to move up the food chain. Jonathan Niese had middling skills and may net 10 wins. But he is not overpowering, delivers barely 2/3 of a K per inning and, well, just is not uninspiring. More of a #4 than a #3 starter. Better for you if he is your #5.
Jeff Locke has a profile similar to Niese. Not much here. Maybe a threat to get 10 wins. Ryan Vogelsong is even more wishy washy. At 38 years old, there is little upside. Definitely a $1 bid at best. These three will be innings eaters on your roster and not much more. They will deliver serviceable, quality starts for the Pirates but that does not usually translate into fantasy profit.
The most important contribution that Niese, Vogelsong or Locke can make to the team is to miss making the starting rotation. Rookie phenom Tyler Glasnow looms. He pitched only 104 innings in 2015. But he delivered 108 K and had a 3.3 bb/9 rate. He is clearly a candidate to have his innings limited in 2016 (He’s only 22). But if he makes the starting rotation, he’ll bring #2 or #3 skills to the 4 or 5 spot. Definitely a keeper and a source of excitement in Pittsburgh. If he lives up to his skill set, Pitt will boast a solid 1-2-3 SP lineup.
The bullpen is anchored by Mark Melancon. His 51 saves masked the impact of a slow start in 2015. He is not a threat to reach the 100 K mark. But if you are looking for a reliable source of saves, he is a solid investment after the studs are gone. Tony Watson struck out as many batters as Melancon did in relief last year. He is a closer in waiting and could easily succeed if Melancon fails. Definitely a safe endgame pickup if your league values holds and a decent source of K each week.
Arquimedes Caminero is a bit of a mystery. He misses bats (73K in 75 IP in 2015) and is a decent source of vulture wins (5 in 2015). A good $1 investment at the end of your draft.
Overall, this is not a bad bullpen. Right now, Melancon is the only real source of saves or value, but he is in a contract year. Should Pittsburgh falter in its quest for the postseason, Melancon could depart and make you happy you spent the buck on Watson or Caminero.
No doubt, it will be an exciting summer in Pittsburgh as this team’s young talent comes into its own. If Glasnow can solidify the starting rotation, Pittsburgh will again threaten to take a wildcard spot. Before we get that far, take note that there is lots of fantasy talent and profit on this team. Bid with confidence.
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Major League Fantasy Baseball Show: Join Corey D Roberts on Sunday March 13th, 2016 from 7-9pm EST for this week’s episode of the Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio Show. We are a live call in radio show so we encourage callers at 323-870-4395. Press 1 to speak with the host. We begin the division by division break downs with everything fantasy and MLB relevant in the A.L. East.
Our guests this week are Zak Sauer and Hernan Batista. Zak is a writer with majorleaguefantasysports.com. Hernan is a key owner in our leagues and will be a regular guest on our shows this year.
Come join a lively debate!
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Major League Fantasy Baseball Weekly Show: Join Lou Landers and Kyle Amore live on Thursday March 10th, 2016 from 8-10pm EST for episode #4 of Major League Fantasy Baseball Weekly. We will discuss player positions and help prepare you for the coming draft season. This will run every Thursday as a live broadcast that will take live callers at 323-870-4395. Press 1 to speak with the host. This week we will discuss the short stop and 2nd base players to target or avoid in 2016.
This week’s guests are Marc Foster and Nick DeSisto. Marc was a writer with us in 2012 and 2013. He is one the original 8 core members who has been playing in our leagues since 2008 and he will be a frequent guest on our shows this year. Nick is going into his 3rd year as an MLFB owner and he will also be a frequent radio guest this year.
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