The Pirates’ off-season so far has been devoid even of rumors of meaningful moves to improve a 75-win team. Still, if it’s true, this may be the most discouraging sign yet:
Former MLB exec told me #Pirates offseason plan/in-season success hinges on pitching staff taking next step. In that case, it's not outrageous to think the team's most important addition this winter might be asst pitch coach Justin Meccage.— Rob Biertempfel (@BiertempfelTrib) December 7, 2017
It’s not remarkable that the Pirates would look for improvement from their rotation. Except for Ivan Nova, it’s a young rotation, including depth that goes down seven or eight spots. In spite of numerous problems in 2017 — the sudden explosion of Gerrit Cole’s HR rate, Tyler Glasnow’s massive struggles, and Nova’s and Jameson Taillon’s second-half collapses — the rotation still ranked about average in MLB.
The real problem is that a front office that thinks improved pitching will get this team into the playoffs, let alone the World Series, is seriously delusional. The Astros and Dodgers had very good pitching. LA led the majors in starter ERA and Houston was sixth. But those teams also had good offenses. In fact, all the playoff teams were good at scoring runs. Here’s where they finished in that department:
So only two teams that finished in the top 12 in offense failed to gain one of the ten post-season slots. All of the eight highest-scoring teams made the post-season. Teams that expect to contend realize they have to be good at all phases of the game.
The Pirates, of course, were 28th in runs, and 29th in HRs and slugging. Hoping for a couple of players to have better years isn’t a plan to make up the enormous difference between them and baseball’s good teams. A “plan” to rely on a group of young pitchers — a group that appears to be good but hardly dominant — to carry a 75-win team to the post-season smacks of a front office that simply has no clue how to move forward. Or one that knows it lacks the resources to contend and doesn’t have the fortitude to admit the obvious and start a rebuild.