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The Nine Innings: What is Pirates outfielder Jack Suwinski’s ceiling?

Pirates’ 13-7 start is the best since 2002.

MLB: Cincinnati Reds at Pittsburgh Pirates Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome back to the Nine innings! I have some takes to get off of my chest.

I don’t know what has gotten into the Pirates' starting pitching

For the past ten games, Pirates’ starters have gone at least six innings while allowing three runs or fewer. Yes, that is what we call a quality start. This has been great to see. Innings have been eaten up and the bullpen has been able to stay fresh. In these games, the Pirates have gone 7-3. Over that span, the starting pitching as a unit has accumulated an fWAR of 1.4, ranking second in all of baseball.

Before this current streak of quality starts began, the starting pitching was not nearly as great. In fact, they were flat-out bad ranking second to last in fWAR as a unit (also a ten-game span). I do not believe the Pirates have either the second-best rotation in baseball or the second-worst. If they can live in the teens in terms of productivity, I believe a fairly consistent winning formula will have been created, especially with how great the offense has looked.

Andrew McCutchen All-Star Campaign Update

Yep, still looks like an All-Star. McCutchen is now hitting .290/.385/.548 with four home runs and four doubles over 76 plate appearances (149 wRC+). He has as many walks as strikeouts (11).

The Pirates are now starting to gain some national attention as the team with zero expectations starting to win some games. Andrew McCutchen is the face of that operation. Also, and maybe most importantly, people love this guy. If the Pirates keep winning at a decent pace, and McCutchen continues to produce, maybe not at his current level, but in general, he will seriously garner some All-Star consideration.

What a week for Jack Suwinski

Just last week, I wondered if Suwinski’s time was just about up with the Pirates at the major league level. Look at him now though. After a four-home run outburst in his last four games, Suwinski is now second on the team in fWAR (0.6). He is tied for the team lead in home runs at five. His slash line of .263/.375/.684 resembles that of Ralph Kiner.

Oh, how we love April baseball.

I don't know if this is just another flash in the pan for Suwinski. It very well might be. His whiff rate is in the 15th percentile of all major leaguers. Not great. The guy needs to make contact more consistently. There is no other way around it. The contact he does make is nothing short of elite. I truly believe the 24-year-old has 40 home run power. His plate discipline is great. Defensively and speed-wise, he is solid.

Suwinski’s ability to make consistent contact will determine whether he is a star-level player or just another guy. All of the other tools are there. And they're all genuinely solid.

Bryan Reynolds has been slumping

With how awesome the offense has looked over the past week, it has been easy to look past the fact that Reynolds has been struggling since the home opener. Over his past 13 games, Reynolds is hitting .200/.222/.220 with one double (54 PA). His contact quality is still solid and he hasn’t been striking out a godly amount.

One thing that kind of worries me though is his walk rate. This season, Reynolds has just four walks in 86 plate appearances (4.7 percent). As we saw in the Colorado series, Reynolds hasn't been getting the friendliest of strike zones. Perhaps Reynolds is pressing a bit after his white-hot start. Perhaps the contract negotiations (or lack thereof right now, who knows) are affecting his play.

Am I worried about Reynolds in the slightest? Absolutely not. His overall numbers still look good. It would be nice though to see him pick things back up soon.

Here are my personal bullpen pitcher rankings

This list is based on how comfortable/confident I feel when this pitcher is on the mound in high leverage situation.

  1. David Bednar: No explanation is needed. He’s awesome.
  2. Colin Holderman: Last night, the tall man allowed his first runs of the season. That said, with the tying run on third with one out, Holderman shut it down and didn’t allow the Reds to tie the game. He came through when it mattered most.
  3. Robert Stevenson: He’s only pitched 2.2 (scoreless) innings this season in four separate outings. Maybe I'm wrong, but I get more seventh-inning man vibes from him rather than Duane Underwood Jr.
  4. Duane Underwood Jr.: Don’t get me wrong, I like Underwood Jr. more than most. I just like him more as a middle reliever.
  5. Jose Hernandez: I think it’s time we graduate Hernandez from pure mop-up guy to someone that can pitch meaningful innings. He’s only allowed one earned run over eight frames this season.
  6. Wil Crowe: I get it, he’s not the most popular guy among fans. He’s walked as many hitters as he’s struck out this season. I still hold out hope that the Crowe from the beginning of last season is still somewhere in there.
  7. Dauri Moreta: I love the money man’s energy as much as anyone. Moreta definitely ranks higher on the fun rankings. That said, he has more walks than innings pitched this season. He’s been able to get out of jams, yes, but that is not a sustainable formula for success.
  8. Yohan Ramirez: Undecided. I need to see more outings.

I ranked the bullpen, I might as well rank the starters

If one game is on the line and I need a starting pitcher, here is how I’d rank the Pirates’ starting pitchers.

  1. Mitch Keller: I feel like he is currently the Pirates' most consistent guy. For the past calendar year, Keller has been a top-ten pitcher in the National League.
  2. Roansy Contreras: This one was tough. I tangled between him and Oviedo. Roansy gets the slight nod though based on prospect pedigree and experience starting.
  3. Johan Oviedo: If there is anyone who can jump this list, it’s Oviedo. I am straight-up sold on this guy. His body and frame are that of someone you'd expect to throw 200 innings. I don’t know if I’ve ever witnessed a more relaxed 99 mph fastball thrown. His slider is nothing short of devastating. The injury to JT Brubaker sucks. But sometimes injuries open doors for others. Oviedo has gotten an opportunity. He’s been quite impressive thus far.
  4. Rich Hill: Dick Mountain had the shakiest quality start I've seen in a while when he went six innings and allowed two runs against the Houston Astros two starts ago. I mean, he didn’t strikeout a single hitter. In his last start against the Colorado Rockies though, my concerns were quieted for the time being. Hill sliced and diced his way through the Rockies' lineup at Coors Field going six innings while allowing just one run. The strikeout was working as he fanned seven. More of that, please.
  5. Vince Velasquez: Cousin Vinny has also been solid over his past two starts allowing just three runs over 12 innings pitched. After a shaky first inning at Coors Field in which he allowed all three of those runs, Velasquez shut things down completely for the next five.

About those Connor Joe at-bats...

Last week, I commented on how Joe deserved to see more playing time. Well, over the past seven games, Joe has started in six of them. And look at that, he leads the team in fWAR (0.8). He is hitting .340/.421/.640 with two home runs, five doubles and two triples. His wRC+ of 180 also leads the team.

It’s crazy, but Joe has been the team’s most valuable player over these first 20 games. He just started getting regular everyday at-bats about a week ago. Once again, the sample size is small and it’s fair to wonder how sustainable this production can be. Blah blah blah. Let’s just enjoy it for now. Joe has been a monster.

Let’s hear it for the coaching staff

Derek Shelton. Andy Haines. Oscar Marin. Bravo to all of you. This team has been rolling. Some credit has to be given to the veterans for showing the way to the younger guys. But credit is to be given to the coaching staff as well.

At one point or another, people were calling for each of their jobs. Not at the moment though. These jobs are safe.

An apology to Mark Mathias

April baseball gets the best of all of us. Mathias started his season 1-16 and Pirates Twitter let him have it, myself included. Sorry about that, Marky Math. That’s the thing about April though. Stats can change dramatically in a single day. Shoutout to Mathias, who is currently six for his last nine. His season stat line looks more respectable now (.292/.370/.333) in 27 plate appearances. Now he’s just an extra-base hit or two away from boosting the slugging percentage as well.