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Bucco breakfast: How much playing time did the Pirates give to very good players?

Pittsburgh Pirates v Cincinnati Reds Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images

At DG Lewis’ behest, here’s the flip side. I think it’s pretty obvious that this is a very different exercise from the “bad players” one, because of the way talent is distributed. There are a lot of marginal players, who mostly get limited playing time, but relatively few elite players, who mostly get regular playing time. That means a survey like this is more likely to be skewed by a few players. There’s the additional problem, in using ERA, that fancy ERAs tend to be disproportionately sported by relievers. But, still, here are the NL numbers:

Plate Appearances by Players with a 120+ OPS+ (Pitchers Excluded)

LA Dodgers: 3793
Cincinnati: 2208
NY Mets: 1985
Washington: 1852
Colorado: 1329
St. Louis: 1325
Chi. Cubs: 1310
Arizona: 1304
Milwaukee: 1271*
Atlanta: 1245
Pirates: 1008
Philadelphia: 818 (mostly by Rhys Hoskins)
Miami: 605 (nearly all by J.T. Realmuto)
San Diego: 285 (all by Franmil Reyes)
San Francisco: 8 (all by somebody named Ryder Jones)

*Both Lorenzo Cain and Travis Shaw, who totaled 1207 PAs, just missed the cutoff at 119.

I’m not sure this says much except in the broadest sense. The NL had one real powerhouse offense — the Dodgers — and they’re at the top. It had three basket case offenses, and they’re right at the bottom. Of course, the other two lowest-ranking teams, the Pirates and Phillies, were also below average at producing runs. The Reds and Mets, though, were also below average offensively and they rank second and third.

The Pirates are interesting in that seven players who got significant playing time — Josh Bell, Corey Dickerson, Starling Marte, Adam Frazier, David Freese, Elias Diaz and Austin Meadows — finished with an OPS+ between 111 and 119. Those seven totaled 2781 plate appearances. I couldn’t find another team in the NL with close to that concentration of good-but-not-great hitters. It also helped the Pirates that they had only one truly bad hitter, Josh Harrison, who got a lot of playing time, yet, again, they weren’t a good offensive team. I guess you could conclude that, despite a deep lineup and three excellent bench players, the absence of elite hitters prevented the Pirates from having a playoff-quality offense. Whether that means you’re less likely to succeed generally with that sort of lineup is hard to say from such a small sample size. It probably speaks to the Pirates’ lack of power, though, as some of their hitters — Bell, Dickerson and Colin Moran, whose OPS+ was 105 — had good-but-not-great OPS+ figures because their power output was low for their positions.

Batters Faced by Pitchers with a 120+ ERA+

Chi. Cubs: 3376
LA Dodgers: 2939
Atlanta: 2786
Pirates: 2647
St. Louis: 2378*
Colorado: 2363
NY Mets: 2096
San Francisco: 2012
Washington: 1925
Philadelphia: 1652
Milwaukee: 1645**
Cincinnati: 1424
San Diego: 1380
Arizona: 1304
Miami: 148

*Only 209 BFs of this came from the Cardinals’ top nine relievers.
**Only 438 BFs of this came from starters, specifically Wade Miley (338) and Gio Gonzalez (100).

This list again probably proves anything only at the margins. Miami sucked, and the Dodgers and Cubs were 1-2 in the NL in staff ERA. (The two parts of this exercise provide some support for the notion, which I think is correct, that the Dodgers are easily the most talented team in the NL.) The Dodgers and Cubs both had very deep staffs; with Clayton Kershaw hurt for a while, neither team had what I’d call an “ace.” I guess you could point to Jon Lester, who went 18-6 with a 129 ERA+, but the advanced metrics weren’t all that impressed with him: his xFIP was 4.43. This exercise is far too simplistic to allow any broad conclusions about building a pitching staff, but maybe it does support the notion that the idea of having several “aces” isn’t necessarily the way to succeed any more. Apart from the Cubs and Dodgers, there’s also the Brewers, who rated very low on this list. As the note shows, Milwaukee relied very heavily on its bullpen. The closest thing the Brewers had to an ace was Wade Miley, who made 16 starts and averaged only five innings per.

The Pirates obviously ranked pretty high on this list. A lot of it was Jameson Taillon and Trevor Williams, who totaled over half (1486, or 56%) of the batters faced shown for the team. Taillon and Williams didn’t qualify by large margins; their ERA+ figures were 121 and 125, respectively. None of the other starters managed better than 96. The top four relievers (Felipe Vázquez, Richard Rodriguez, Edgar Santana and Kyle Crick), plus Keone Kela, all made the cutoff. In fact, they were the only other pitchers on the staff besides Taillon and Williams who managed an ERA+ above 96. ERA+ isn’t the best measure of talent, but I nevertheless don’t think the Pirates are operating with much margin for error on the pitching side and badly need to add depth. If you remember yesterday’s exercise with playing time for bad pitchers, the Pirates did not compare well to the playoff teams.

Daily Links

  • A FanGraphs article by Craig Edwards notes that this year’s World Series features the largest combined payroll ever. He crunches the numbers in various ways, which among other things shows that the ranking moves down a bit once you adjust for inflation. He also explains, though, that this year’s payrolls by themselves don’t entirely account for what the Sox and Dodgers spent to get where they are. When you look at the teams’ spending over time, including the luxury tax they’ve paid, it’s easy to get a hopeless feeling about the prospects of lower-revenue teams. Then again, just one game kept the Brewers from giving us the largest payroll disparity in World Series history.
  • Adam Berry thinks the most likely outcome with Jung-Ho Kang is that he and the Pirates will negotiate a new deal.