Posted on March 16, 2020, by Bryan Zarpentine

Pittsburgh Pirates
Image via pittsburgh.cbslocal.com

It was certainly an unusual offseason for the Pittsburgh Pirates. On the heels of a disastrous second half in 2019, the Pirates replaced their team president, GM, and manager over the winter. Needless to say, there’s a new era in Pittsburgh. But after such a poor finish in 2019, are the Pirates prepared to make any noise in 2020 or will it be another long season for the Steel City?

Rotation

Pittsburgh’s rotation may have been the most disappointing part of the team’s season in 2019. Both Chris Archer and Trevor Williams underperformed significantly, as each posted an ERA over 5.00. The Pirates are obviously hoping that both can have bounce-back seasons in 2020. If that happens and Joe Musgrove can continue to be a solid mid-rotation starter, Pittsburgh’s rotation may not be so bad this season.

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The back half of the rotation is also capable of being better than they were a year ago. Chad Kuhl is a solid no. 5 starter if they need him while Steven Brault and prospect Mitch Keller were both considerable disappointments in 2019 who need to do better this season. Altogether, the Pirates have the talent to have at least a middle-of-the-pack rotation in the National League, but they can’t have so many starters underperform the way they did last year.

Bullpen

The Pittsburgh bullpen is also facing some serious questions with closer Felipe Vazquez out of the picture because of legal problems. The good news is that Keone Kela is ready to step into the closer’s spot. He saved 24 games in 25 chances for the Rangers two seasons ago, so he should be a trustworthy option in the 9th inning. The likes of Richard Rodriguez, Kyle Crick, Michael Feliz, and Edgar Santana have all flashed late-inning stuff in the past, so there is hope that the Pirates can put together a solid contingent of late-game relievers to help get the ball to Kela in the 9th inning.

On the other hand, the Pirates are undoubtedly lacking experienced relievers with Vazquez gone and Francisco Liriano also relocating over the winter. Most of the young pitchers who got a chance to pitch out of the bullpen last year didn’t take advantage of their opportunity. That could make depth an issue in the Pittsburgh bullpen, even if Kela and some of the other late-game relievers are reliable.

Lineup

Offensively, the Pirates are in decent shape for a team that struggled to win games in the second half of last season. Josh Bell remains a key figure after hitting 37 home runs and posting an OPS of .936 in 2019. Pittsburgh is also hoping that shortstop Kevin Newman and left fielder Bryan Reynolds can continue to produce the way they did last season and solidify themselves as everyday players. The key could be getting more out of Gregory Polanco, who had a lost 2019 season and needs to be better, especially with Starling Marte getting traded.

Meanwhile, the depth in Pittsburgh’s lineup is solid but unspectacular. Infielders like Adam Frazier and Colin Moran are viable offensive players, although neither is a huge difference-maker. The same can be said of primary catcher Jacob Stallings. With Jarrod Dyson and Guillermo Heredia joining the Pirates to help replace Marte, there could be some black holes in Pittsburgh’s lineup unless some of their younger players can surprise people.

Prediction

The Pirates are projected for 70.5 wins in 2020. That would be a slight improvement after they won 69 games a year ago. However, that win projection will surely go down with a shortened season due to the coronavirus pandemic. While Pittsburgh’s starting rotation is due to improve, there are plenty of other problems with the roster. All things considered, there are few players who look like a safe bet to be average or better players. Look for Pittsburgh to fall short of any win projection and move into a full-scale rebuilding project by the end of 2020.

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