By: Noah Wright
The Pirates are only 2 game out of the NL Central division, but there have been 2 things that have really been noticeably bad to start off the season. That’s the team’s clutch hitting, and the bullpen. Both of which have struggled so far to start the season, and have led to many disappointing losses. Especially with how good the rotation has been. I mean, the starting 5 have all looked like aces through their first few starts of the year.
The clutch hitting is the first thing that needs to be improved. They have left roughly 7 men on base per game. That’s 19th in the MLB right now. While I don’t expect them to score every man they put on base, they need to cut it down. Right now, they’re pretty good with men in RISP, having left about 3.29 runners in scoring position this year per game so far. That’s about 10th in the MLB. However in general, they’re leaving too many men on base. A lot of the Pirates games, they have won, or lost by just a few runs. It would not only help the pitchers if they were given a large lead, but it would also help the bullpen. The first way they can fix this is rearranging the line-up. Josh Bell so far has been one of the best run producers in the line-up. He needs to stay batting either 3rd or 4th. Whenever Corey Dickerson comes back, he should be inserted right into the middle of the order as well. Their clutchest hitter has been Colin Moran, but the corner infielder seems to do much better in clutch situations when he comes off the bench. Regardless, Moran should stay on the bench since he performs better as a substitute than starter. They could also go out and get a bat to help improve the line-up. A few of my suggestions include utility man Howie Kendrick from the Nationals, or veteran corner outfielder Hunter Pence as a rental from the Rangers. Both would add a decent clutch bat to the bench, and more outfield depth.
The pen is the biggest struggle so far this year. Keone Kela and Richard Rodriguez, 2 relief pitchers who were greatly relied upon by the Pirates last season, have gotten off to bumpy starts. Rodriguez, who has done better recently, has given up 4 home runs in only 11 innings. Last year, he gave up 5 in 69 and a third innings. Keone Kela has been prone to the long ball as well, giving up 3 in 8 and two thirds innings, but gave up 5 in 52 innings all of ‘18. Kyle Crick has been solid outside of one appearance where he gave up a handful of weakly hit balls that turned into hits, before giving up a 3 run triple to David Peralta on Monday. Though he has not walked a single person yet. While this trio of relief pitchers are all still fairly young, and will probably bounce back, the same can’t be said for Nick Burdi. Burdi went down with a biceps injury on Monday’s game. While it initially looked really bad when it happened, it turned out that he didn’t tear any muscles completely. Regardless, he will still be out for a fair amount of time. Plus outside of left handed, shutdown closer Felipe Vasquez, the team doesn’t have a great option for a left handed relief pitcher. Sure Francisco Liriano has done fairly well, but I don’t trust him in a close game, set up situation just yet. There are plenty of LHP relief options available on the market though. One former Pirate that comes to mind is Tony Watson. The now-Giant has done well over on the West Coast for SF, and could be up for trade. The same can be said about Giants’ closer Will Smith, except he’s never been a Pirate. Smith is a rental though, while Watson does have a cheap player option for 2020.
The Bucs don’t need a fix immediately. They’re solid enough now that they could stay in the playoff hunt for a few more months. However, they could really improve their chances by adding a few pieces here and there. I’m not saying they should go out and acquire the biggest name on the free agent market, but adding a Tony Watson and a Howie Kendrick is doable. Both don’t add very much to the payroll, and both wouldn’t cost more than a mid level prospect or two.