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Introducing the 2019 Pirates MLB Jam tournament

MLB: Pittsburgh Pirates at Colorado Rockies Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s face it.

It is extremely difficult to comment on the Pittsburgh Pirates as they currently stand. There is no leader of baseball operations. I would love to comment on whether or not the Pirates should retool or rebuild this winter, but until a general manager is hired, there really is no point. There’s also no point in speculating the many GM candidate rumors. I’d rather just wait until somebody is actually hired.

In actual team news, the Pirates did pick up the club options of Starling Marte and Chris Archer as we all suspected. The rest of the club is basically arbitration or pre-arb players. The team is what it is right now. Until a new GM comes in to stir the pot, I don’t really feel comfortable speculating what could or could not happen in the coming months.

In the meantime, let’s get weird.

Back in August, Chris Landers of’s Cut4 came up with the idea of creating an MLB version of the legendary 1990s game, NBA Jam. If you aren’t familiar, NBA Jam is a 2-on-2 basketball video game consisting of superstars flying from the three point line and dunking ferociously. It really is ecstasy. Today’s Fortnite generation will never feel the satisfaction of heating up and even catching on fire. Sad.

Anyways, the concept is simple. Landers ranked each team’s “Jam Squad” based on their best pitcher and hitter (the Pirates’ Chris Archer and Josh Bell were ranked 23rd).

What if the 2019 Pittsburgh Pirates split up into eight 2-on-2 MLB Jam squads? What would they look like and who would win?

Some rules:

  • This will be a three inning game. We will assume that the relievers participating will have relative effectiveness over the three innings. Aka, starters will not have an advantage over relievers because they are actually used to throwing multiple innings.
  • Each team’s hitter will get to hit in every plate appearance of the game.
  • Each team’s fielders will consist of equal replacement level players. All fielders for each team are the same. Sorry, this isn’t a fielding contest.
  • To account for baserunners, we will duplicate the original hitter’s baserunning ability for those on base.
  • PNC Park is where the tournament will be held.
  • This will be a straight up bracket. No re-seeding if necessary.

Pretty simple, yeah?

The Teams/Matchups

For the teams, I matched the Pirates’ best hitters (according to wRC+ minimum 200 PA) with their worst pitchers (according to fWAR) for maximum chaos.

Also, let’s keep in mind that hitters would have the ultimate advantage in this wacky version of baseball. They would see the pitcher way more than the usual two to three times a game while also seeing them over and over again. Because of this, the seeding will favor the hitters.

#1 Josh Bell and Chris Stratton


#8 Melky Cabrera and Joe Musgrove

In this matchup, Melky would string together hits against Stratton. It just depends on how many. He is the ultimate slap artist and Stratton isn’t all that good. On the other hand, it may take Cabrera four singles to score a single run. The real question in this game is how Bell would fare against Musgrove. If he is able to string together some hard contact, it would be tough for Bell to not score at least five runs.

Advantage: Bell and Stratton.

#4 Kevin Newman and Chris Archer


#5 Adam Frazier and Trevor Williams

This might be the closest matchup in the whole tournament. On one hand, I could see Archer serving up a dinger or two against Frazier. On the other hand, I could see Newman gapping ball after ball against Williams. In the end, I think Newman’s speed on the bases paired with Archer’s strikeout ability will be the difference in this game.

Advantage: Newman and Archer.

#3 Starling Marte and Keone Kela


#6 Jose Osuna and Steven Brault

I have to admit. The committee may have messed up with this matchup. Although Kela had the sixth highest fWAR among Pirate pitchers in this contest, he is better than the sixth best pitcher. Such is life. That said, this matchup has upset written all over it. Marte has struggled against left-handed pitching for a while now and Brault’s wild ways may just give him the advantage against the known free swinger. This game will be close. But I can’t go against the proven stud.

Advantage: Marte and Kela.

#2 Bryan Reynolds and Francisco Liriano


#7 Colin Moran and Mitch Keller

Extremely tough matchup for my guy Moran here. A lefty specialist against a left handed hitter with little career success against said lefties. Good luck. The Keller vs Reynolds matchup would be an exciting showcase of two young and upcoming players. Simple logic says Reynolds and Liriano win this game easily. Too bad simple logic doesn’t apply to baseball, especially this version of it! A Moran grand slam late in the game is the difference.

UPSET ALERT: Moran and Keller move on.


#1 Bell and Stratton


#4 Newman and Archer

Bell loves to hit dingers. Archer loves to give dingers up. Too many runs for Newman to overcome. Bell and Stratton move on.

#3 Marte and Kela


#7 Moran and Keller

Unfortunately this Cinderella story comes to screeching halt in the final four. Marte’s bat paired with his speed on the bases is the main difference. Both pitchers have gutsy performances but Kela gives up one less big hit in a close game. Marte and Kela move on.


#1 Bell and Stratton


#3 Marte and Kela

In this game, the away hitting Marte jumps all over Stratton for multiple runs. Pitching finally catches up to the one seeded squad. Kela is also able to rack a few strikeouts early. Bell ultimately makes a charge late in this game but it’s not enough.

We have a 2019 Pirates MLB Jam champion.

Starling Marte and Keone Kela win! At least that’s what I think.

What do you think?