I'm not sure what to make of any of this, beyond the fact that it's been 12 games, but it's worth noting that the Pirates' .500 record so far has been driven, in large part, by the part of their team that looked most like a weakness -- their starting pitching.
It's early, and it's also April, typically a good month for pitchers. But the Bucs' starters have been great, by any reasonable standard. Here are their rankings so far throughout baseball.
Now, again, we want to be careful here, and comparing the Bucs' rotation to those of AL teams isn't always the smartest thing to do, since the Pirates don't have to face the DH.
But these numbers are great. And what's weird is why they're great. The high ground ball percentage and low ERA are, perhaps, to be expected, given the Pirates' typical game plan and the favorable conditions in which they play. But what's been new so far this season is that now peripheral statistics love the Pirates, too. Here are Pirates starters' rankings in 2014 in the five categories above.
Last season, the Pirates compensated for their pitchers' mediocre peripherals with ground balls, shifts and a pitching-friendly ballpark. In fact, the Bucs' run prevention was so good despite the weak peripherals that standard sabermetric stats clearly weren't the best way to evaluate it. This season, it's different. Pirates starters are annihilating opposing batters in more traditional ways. Bucs starters never struck out anyone in 2014. This year, their 8.84 K/9 is comparable to the career rates of Johan Santana, Curt Schilling and Felix Hernandez.
They're obviously not going to continue at that rate, and even if it did with their current pitchers, the Bucs would still have issues, like how best to keep Burnett and Liriano healthy. But Burnett looks like a new man after an off year in Philadelphia -- he's throwing with less velocity than at any point in his career, but his sinking fastball still looks like a terrific pitch, and he's keeping the ball down, down, down.
Gerrit Cole is 24 and might be coming into his own. Francisco Liriano has so far demonstrated better control than he did last year. Jeff Locke has made the best of what he has so far, with impeccable control and tons of ground balls. And as folks discussed in the recap after Casey Sadler's start, Sadler demonstrates that the Pirates can get pretty good innings out of even their depth pitchers. The only starting pitcher who hasn't been good so far is Vance Worley.
Maybe none of this means anything. But there's reason for optimism, particularly, I think, in the cases of Burnett and Cole. The Bucs' offense hasn't done much so far. But even if that continues, perhaps a better-than-expected showing from their starters can help compensate.