New Direction- A look at the Pittsburgh Pirates 2020


The Pittsburgh Pirates started out 2019 looking like the breakout team of the season. Josh Bell emerged into an All-Star while Kevin Newman and Bryan Reynolds both excelled in their first full seasons in the majors.  The Pirates were a trainwreck in the second half going 28-48 while dealing with more turmoil in the clubhouse than a reality TV show about rich guys wives. Suspensions of Kyle Crick, Keone Kela and of course Felipe Vasquez made an already bad bullpen even worse.  The Pirates management made the right decision and moved on from Clint Hurdle. A change of culture was needed, in comes Derek Shelton, a man that knows how to win.

Derek Shelton has a lot to fix in Pittsburgh, the offense may be the one thing he doesn’t.  A projected lineup that will include Josh Bell, Starling Marte, Gregory Polanco and Bryan Reynolds should be a solid starting point for the organization.  Marte, 31, is the oldest of the aforementioned players has been the mainstay of the organization for years. It’s time for the organization to move onto the Josh Bell ERA.  Bell is the evolution of the modern day player, supplying both power and on-base ability. 

While the offense has the pieces to build around the pitching staff is lackluster to say the least. The rotation has two young starters to begin their rebuild in Chad Kuhl and Jameson Taillon. Joe Musgrove was a surprise llast year bringing in a 3.3 WAR and solidifying himself as a potential mainstay for years to come.  Pittsburgh still has Mitch Keller at the top of their prospect ranks. His first time in the majors was not great but the talent is still there and can help build a strong core for the future.

The Pirate bullpen has more problems than I can fit onto one blog post. Keone Kela will be projected in the closer role followed behind by Kyle Crick, Richard Rodriguez, Michael Feliz and the emergence of Edgar Santana.  Last season’s Pirate bullpen was horrible on most accounts, finishing bottom ten or bottom five in most categories. Pittsburgh had serious issues with putting people on base for free, walking 304 players and allowing a .255 BA.  They not only put people on but they regularly allowed them to score. With no major additions to the bullpen they Pirates are hoping that new Pitching Coach Oscar Marin can find a way to change up the fortunes of the staff. Marin spent last season as the bullpen coach for the Texas Rangers.  Marin was a bargain basement cost but a new face and new appeal could be exactly what the organization is looking for.

Conclusion: 

 Moving Chris Archer, Trevor Williams and Starling Marte should be enough to bring back the prospects to take them from bottom ten ranking (#22 according to Bleacher Report).  The Pirates have the assets to help a team that will be in contention. Pittsburgh has to commit to their rebuild by moving their pieces while they still have the value. By moving on from Clint Hurdle they are showing the first step towards a new direction. 

The future for Pittsburgh is on the shoulders of Ke’Bryan Hayes, the 34th ranked prospect according to Baseball America.  Hayes will likely find his way to the majors in 2020 joining their young rotation pieces. A new direction in the steel city has the chance to work if they are willing to follow the same game plan as fellow NL Central foes Cincinnati Reds and Chicago Cubs.  Tough times are ahead for Pittsburgh.

Breaking Down the Reds

I was at a Cardinals/Cubs game last year at Busch Stadium when the news broke about Trevor Bauer being traded within the Central Division.  When I first heard that, naturally I would have assumed that it was either the Cubs, Brewers or Cardinals that made the move to put themselves over the top in a competitive division. I found a place with Wifi and realized that it was the cellar dwelling Cincinnati Reds that made the move, shocking most baseball pundits. Cincinnati has continued to improve their team in the offseason with additions that are not being made for the future but for right now.  They are coming for the Central division and it’s time to take notice. 

Offseason Additions: Mike Moustakas, Wade Miley

The Red’s had some holes to fill coming into the offseason.  Most notably was at second base. With their top prospect Nick Senzel becoming firmly planted in center field for most likely many years to come they had to fill that hole.  They were able to add the power hitting Mike Moustakas. Moustakas is coming off a great year with the Milwaukee Brewers hitting 35 homers, .503 slugging percentage, .262 ISO and a 2.8 WAR.  The addition of Moustakas adds power behind Joey Votto and Eugenio Suarez. His consistent power gives the Reds a great safety net in case Aristedes Aquino falls into the classic sophomore slump as he enters the full time lineup.  

Wade Miley had a great 2019 with the Houston Astros.  The basic numbers are solid 14 wins, 3.98 ERA and holding lefties to a .207 batting average.  Miley faded down the stretch as his cutter seemed to lose its zip. While Miley’s August- October cost him a spot in the playoff rotation, he still did what was needed for the Astros. Miley is realistic a league average pitcher with upside.  Putting him at the end of the Reds rotation behind Sonny Gray, Anthony DeScalfani, Luis Castillo and Trevor Bauer makes their rotation arguably the best in the National League and for sure the Central Division.

What else do they need?

The Red’s continued their offseason additions by adding 31-year old Shogo Akiyama.  The addition of Akiyama could end the reported interest in Marcell Ozuna. Cincinnati’s outfield consists of Jesse Winker, Nick Senzel and Aristedes Aquino with the reserves being Phillip Irvin and Travis Janikowski.  Aquino provides power, Senzel speed and Winker…well he is ok.   

Akiyama projects to bat leadoff for the Reds which is the biggest need going into the 2020 season.  Votto, Suarez, Aquino and Moustakas provide a middle of the order that can match up with any lineup.  It also helps that Great American Ballpark should provide even more pop for a lineup with already legit power.  If Akiyama can provide any kind of on-base statistics, this team should be set for a huge offensive season. 

Conclusion

The Red’s farm system lacks the depth ranking at the bottom ten of the league.  Last season they entered ranking 20th overall. Adding established major league talent has pushed the Reds into contention entering 2020.  Last season the bullpen established themselves as a force. Ending with Raisel Iglesias, who has established himself as one of the best closers in all of baseball.  The Reds now have more flexibility with the addition of Miley. Amir Garrett. Michael Lorenzen and Lucas Sims have all become valued middle relievers. Cincinnati has made the moves necessary to be a problem in the Central Division.

Two Wildcats cover- NCAAB Picks ATS Jan. 4

Missouri Tigers at Kentucky Wildcats -8

The Missouri Tigers are coming off of a route of Chicago State.  Not exactly a good warmup for the #17 team in the country coming off of their biggest win of the season over rival Louisville.  The Wildcats come into this with a clear size advantage, Missouri’s leading rebounder is guard Mark Smith averaging just 4.9 per game. They are going to be at a serious disadvantage on the boards.  Kentucky can bring multiple bigs at the Missouri defense including Nick Richards and EJ Montegomery. Missouri will not get many, if any second chance opportunities while the Wildcats should be wild on the offensive boards.  

This game will feature the 25th (Missouri) and 26th (Kentucky) adjusted defenses according to Kenpom.  While they are both great on defense Mizzou ranks 117th in adjusted offense. Even if Mizzou is able to slow the game down, they are at such a huge disadvantage in size that is should be an easy win and cover for Kentucky.

Pick: Kentucky -8

Villanova Wildcats at Marquette Golden Eagles +1

I want to start by saying I love Markus Howard. One of my favorite players in the nation to watch.  Problem is that his team doesn’t always show up the way he does. They have to face off against a Villanova team that is as hot as they come currently in college basketball.  Winners of six straight including two wins over Xavier and Kansas. Villanova’s two loses came on the road against top ten teams Baylor and Ohio State. This game will be on the road but against a very different kind of opponent.  Both of the aforementioned losses were against much stiffer defensive competition ranking 4th (Ohio State) and 12th (Baylor) in Kenpom’s defensive rankings.  

Marquette is coming off of a loss to Creighton where they surrendered 92 points.  They have to bring more intensity on the defensive end to stand a chance. Marquette will keep this one close but they have not shown the ability to finish higher level competition with their best wins coming against Kansas State, Purdue and USC, none bring the potential firepower Villanova does.  

I like Villanova to establish themselves as the class of the tough Big East.  Should be fun but this is a day for Wildcats. 

Picks: Villanova -1

Wildcard Weekend Picks ATS and SU

Buffalo Bills at Houston Texans -3

This game has upset written all over it.  The Texans are three point favorites mainly due to the home field advantage they will take into this game. Being at home may not actually be an advantage for the Texans.  Houston was 5-3 both home and away in 2019 but has only covered the spread in two of those eight games.  

DeShaun Watson has struggled over his last three games throwing five interceptions in those games. Matching up with a Buffalo defense that is giving up just 16.19 points per game this season. Buffalo is tough to move the ball against and they will need to jump out to an early lead to control the tempo of the game.  Buffalo will have a Tre’Davious White shadowing the DeAndre Hopkings throughout the game which should limit his big play ability. If Watson can utilize his secondary options he will be successful, that has not always been great for Houston though. Watson is in a tough spot, he will have to carry the offense.

Josh Allen and the Bills offense has been inconsistent at times but the emergence of Devin Singletary has given Buffalo a versatile offensive threat that opens up the big play ability  of John Brown. Relying totally on the Bills offense would worry me if they didn’t have such an advantage on the defensive end. 

Pick: Bills ML

Tennessee Titans at New England Patriots -5

A nightmare of a matchup for any team, the Tennessee Titans will enter into a context with the greatest QB of all time as well as arguably the best coach of all time. The Titans have found something in former Miami cast off Ryan Tannahill.  Tannahill has found a way to elevate the entire roster making a star out of rookie AJ Brown. Derrick Henry has thrived with the new addition of a passing game. Henry walked away with the leagues rushing title.  

The Patriots have found trouble moving the ball.  They will have to find a way to establish the running game as the Titans have given up 117 yards per game over their last three.  The Patriots will have to lean a lot on Sony Michel. He and Rex Burkhead helped New England average 151 rush yards over its last three contests. 

The Patriots are struggling on both ends.  They still possess a dominant defense, Stephen Gilmore will most likely be matched up with AJ Brown.  If Gilmore can shut down the rookie that will allow the Pat’s defense to focus on shutting down Henry. The Titans will hang around but the Patriots have enough to pull this one out.  Don’t get wrapped up on the loss to the Dolphins, this is still a capable Patriots team. 

Pick: Pats win, Titans Cover

Minnesota Vikings at New Orleans Saints -9

This game is hard to ignore the underlying narrative of the Case Keenum miracle throw to Stefon Diggs just two years ago.  With Kirk Cousins now behind center for Minnesota you immediately have questions about his big game performances of the past.  The Saints are the superior team, but with Dalvin Cook most likely available in this game it seems like nine points is just too much.  

I don’t have much of an opinion on this one, should be the most lopsided game of the day.  Late garbage time touchdown gets the cover for the Vikings.   

Pick: Saints win, Vikings Cover

Seattle Seahawks at Philadelphia Eagles +1.5

A battle of injury riddled playoff teams will come down to which quarterback will be able to overcome those injuries in order to establish their offense.  Carson Wentz has been phenomenal this season becoming the first ever quarterback with 4,000 yards in a season where not one of his wide receivers had over 500 yards.  

Russell Wilson has a legitimate argument for MVP of the National Football League.  The Seahawks lost a lot in week 16 and 17. Most notable they will be without Chris Carson.  Marshawn Lynch and Travis Homer took over the backfield duties last week against the stout 49ers defense.  Even with Carson out the way you beat the Eagles is by throwing the ball. Wilson will have to connect with Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf to open up the running lanes for Beast Mode and company.  Surprisingly the Eagles defense has been great at home and should force pressure on Wilson.  

The biggest question coming into this game will be the health of the last man standing, Eagles Tight End Zach Ertz.  While injuries to Lane Johnson and Miles Sanders are important, Wentz has always relied on Ertz and if he is healthy enough to play he will at the very least be a great decoy to open up one on ones for Greg Ward and Dallas Goedert.  I am least confident in this pick, I am taking Eagles -1.5.

Pick: Eagles -1.5