Chris: Good Liriano or Bad Liriano, going forward, and how much does it matter?
Tim: Bad Liriano. Our only hope is that he can put together two really good starts prior to the deadline and try to trade him for something, anything. His problems are related to declining velocity and he can’t seem to survive without it given that his control has always been suspect. The Pirates should absolutely not try to re-sign him unless he comes at a steep discount.
Should the Pirates be buyers or sellers at the deadline?
Chris: I’m gonna give a cop-out answer and say “It Depends.” And I’m going to give a Breaking Bad answer and say “no Half Measures.” If they have a chance to make a David Price-shaped splash, that’s one thing. And if they have to give up the odd dinky piece for whatever the pitching equivalent of a Marlon Byrd type is, go for it. Just don’t give up a Pretty Good Prospect for someone like Huston Street, is all I ask. I don’t have a lot of worry that this will happen, but it’s really the only thing I’m worried about–and that’s including doing nothing and missing the playoffs by a couple of games. I’m actually okay with the “go home” part of “Go big or go home.” And to clarify, the big is metaphorical, so no Bartolo Colon, either.
Given his higher walk rate and lowered K rate, will Pedro bust out in the second half?
Tim: That’s tough to say. So his walks are up, K’s are down a lot, and his average is up slightly. This is all coming at the expense of his power. His ISO is down to .175 from .240, a pretty big sacrifice. Net: He’s roughly as valuable a hitter as last year (by wRC+), but rather a different hitter.
If he can raise his power and hit 30 plus homers again and maintain the higher walk and K rate, then it would certainly constitute a breakout campaign. It seems like the change in walk and K rates is by design and Pedro is a bit more of a slap hitter than before, so I would expect that he’ll finish with a .240ish average, 25 homers and a slightly worse season all around compared to 2013. Bummer, man
Chris: Yeah, I think there’s maybe a 1-in-3 chance that Pedro goes all Frank Thomas in the second half. I really do. And one of those other 2-of-3s have him hitting for something close to his usual power while maintaining his newfound discipline. He’d have been fine as a 3-4 WAR player hitting .225 with 35 homers every year, but I like the higher-risk, higher-reward path that he may be taking the first steps on. The path of becoming a genuinely good hitter and hoping/expecting that the power will follow again once he’s acclimated to that.
Tim: His defense and base-running are both rating really poorly this year, so he’s only on pace for about 1.5 WAR this season. Unrelated: If I were him, I’d never in a million years re-sign here given that Clint seems to hate him and bats him 7th for some reason. I think Jordy hit in front of him once this season. C’mon, man.
Can the Pirates’ patchwork rotation keep things going and keep them in contention down to the wire?
Chris: I say no, with the caveat that it may not have to. Obviously, the injuries to Cole and Liriano have forced the Bucs’ hand, and it’s worked out wayyyyy better than we’ve had any right to expect. And Liriano might not be all that good any more. But we’re not going to have any more Wandys, and by most accounts the Bucs are just being really cautious with the Cole injury. He might not be untouchable again like he was late last year, but I’d be really surprised if he’s not better in the second half than he was in the first. So I think we can handle some regression here.
An interesting question is where it might come from…and where it might not. Volquez might still blow up (in the bad way). But I think Locke’s for real. I think he’ll stay in the rotation the rest of the year, and I like his chances of contributing at at least an above-average, middle-of-the-rotation level pretty much the whole time. If you assume that he does, then suddenly the rotation looks pretty passable even IF Liriano is hit-and-miss (or miss-and-hit, since he’s a pitcher, I guess), and even IF Cole remains mediocre. It seems increasingly likely that this team can contend without the rotation having to recapture even half of the magic it had last year.
How many wins do you think it’ll take to get in the playoffs this year? It took 90 last year, but I feel like 87 or 88 might do it this time.
Tim: I think it’s going to be about 88. The Nats and Barves are both going to make the playoffs with 90ish wins each, largely as a product of playing in a horrid division. Only one team is coming out of the West, the Dodgers; the Giants are a sinking ship. So that leaves two playoff spots for the old NL Central. The battered Cardinals will probably make a big move and win the division, leaving the last spot for the Pirates, Reds, and Brewers; I think it will either be the Reds or Pirates and require the aforementioned 88 wins.
Who has been the biggest surprise on the team so far? The biggest disappointment?
Chris: There’s a fair bit of competition for both, eh? Hard not to pick Josh Harrison as the biggest surprise, but I think serious consideration has to be given to Jeff Locke. Most of us wouldn’t have given him so much as a single start in the majors after last year, but he’s clearly reinvented himself. I’ll go Harrison anyway, even though his minor league numbers suggest the hitting isn’t a total fluke, just because it’s insane how many good plays he’s made at different defensive positions. But Locke’s contribution, while less surprising, may be more valuable.
Biggest disappointment is tough–the biggest flameouts like Wandy and Grilli aren’t exactly surprising. And the biggest overall dropoff in performance (Liriano) is something a lot of us feared might be coming, too. But it has to be Liriano anyway, just because I think we all figured he’d at least be decent. And a small part of most of us, I think, thought there was at least a CHANCE he’d be very good again. Instead, his ERA’s a half-run higher than his career average–and it’s been a pretty checkered career, at that. Same question for you.
Tim: I’m pretty much in agreement with you: Harrison over Locke as the biggest surprises. I’ll throw Tony Watson in as an honorable mention; he’s been absolutely dominant this season and our best reliever by far. Liriano’s got to be the biggest disappointment. He has gone from the staff ace to being hard to watch.
Chris: Will Andrew McCutchen become the first Pirate in history to win consecutive MVP awards?
Tim: I think he has to be considered the front-runner at the moment. He’s the reigning MVP and having a better offensive season than last year.
The fact that the Pirates will likely miss the playoffs hurts his chances, though. In the NL WAR race, Cutch is behind Troy Tulowitzki by 0.6 (5.2 to 4.6), which is a significant margin. That said, the Rockies are HORRIBLE and won’t help his chances any. Carlos Gomez, Giancarlo Stanton, and Todd Frazier are right there with him in the WAR race, but I think it will come down to Cutch, Tulo, and Yasiel Puig. What do you think?
Chris: I think Cutch’s biggest challenge to winning again is someone like Lucroy, since the Brewers figure to be in the playoff hunt. I’ve never liked it when people weight the MVP race (except maybe on the margins) for playoff contention, but it’s something that might work for us in this regard. Enough people think that way that it’ll almost certainly hamstring Tulo’s chances (plus, he probably hurt himself just now, simply because someone somewhere said the word “hamstring”), and likely Stanton’s as well. But Lucroy’s having a great year at the toughest position, and he’s playing a TON of games at catcher. Assuming he continues to do that without (somehow) wearing down, he could be the guy that snags it.
Tim: Also, how would you assess the job that Clint Hurdle’s done this season so far?
Chris: Hurdle’s a really tough manager to gauge, because there’s clearly a hugely important side to coaching (in baseball and any other sport) that we don’t see. You can be a good manager and a bad tactician if you keep players focused–especially in baseball, given how many games there are and how hard I imagine it is to go full bore during all of them. I’ve been really impressed by my fellow Pirates fans in this regard, at least online, because most seem to understand that Hurdle appears to be pretty good at motivating his players. But there’s really no serious argument that he gets how to properly use a bullpen, and he’s not much better with lineups and matchups.
I still think he’s an above-average manager, too. And while the day to day stuff is more infuriating (and we have more examples of it), I feel like an entire season’s worth of goofy decisions can be offset by one good meta one, like rolling with defensive shifts. A lot of guys who’ve been around as long as he has would fight that, so that buys a lot of good will with me.
That said, fixing the tactical stuff should be the easiest thing by far, and it’s almost certainly cost us a couple of games this year. And the way things are going, those couple of games might be the difference.
Tim’s Win Prediction: 82
Chris’ Win Prediction: 87