If you follow the message boards and comment sections of websites covering the Pittsburgh Pirates you’ll find an irrational horde of fans that have nothing good to say about how the Pittsburgh Pirates have been run.
These “fans” seem to ignore any of the positive developments the Pirates have had over the years. In 1996, when Kevin McClatchy and a group of other investors saved the team from leaving Pittsburgh and later were able to open one of the best parks in baseball, PNC Park, they were briefly celebrated. But, when they were unsuccessful in immediately building a winner the “fans” turned on them.
The Pirates’ financial situation was in a bad place. When Bob Nutting became the principle owner in 2007, he took a rational approach to cleaning up the team’s finances as the next step to the reclamation project. That has been a success. He then began rebuilding the infrastructure with the construction of the Pirates Training Academy ($6 million) in the Dominican Republic, a rebuild of Pirates City and the Pirates Spring Training Complex in Bradenton, FL. He also purchased the Bradenton Marauders to assist in development and rehabilitation of major league Pirates players.
Fans, fanatics, are in general irrational and impatient, so a rational and patient approach doesn’t sit well with them. These “fans” criticize the lack of trading the Pirates’ best prospects for established talent while simultaneously criticizing them for not trading for top prospects. They criticized the most recent trades of Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole because the team “failed to get even one Top 100 prospect in return.” They ignore the fact that just one year ago three of the players they traded for were Top 100 prospects and the only reason they are not now is they are not eligible because they are already in the major leagues.
Another criticism is the Pirates are not aggressive enough in free agency because they are “cheap.” There certainly is room for legit criticism that the Pirates are not aggressive enough in free agency, but the one miss of one high cost free agent would be crippling to the team. This is a very high risk proposition for a small market team. The team has taken smaller risks in trades/signings and turned players’ careers around: AJ Burnett, Francisco Liriano, Edinson Volquez, and JA Happ come to mind.
So, the Pirates are allegedly cheap, don’t sign free agents, don’t trade top prospects, don’t trade for top prospects, and what we’re going to tackle now is they don’t draft or develop well.
It doesn’t matter that the Pirates drafted and/or developed the very players they are criticized for trading in Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole or the player they are purportedly attempting to trade in Josh Harrison. So, are these criticisms fair? Perhaps. How does the team stack up against all the other major league teams? Let’s take a look.
Let’s start in 2008 when they drafted Pedro Alvarez. Though he did make one All-Star game (2013) and once led the NL in home runs (2013) he can’t be considered anything other than a bust. It doesn’t matter that most Pirates’ fans wanted them to draft Alvarez, only that he did not pan out. So how did the other 2008 first rounders go? Below is the round, player, current position, current team, current age, and their 2017 WAR (Fangraphs), and best season WAR (season).
- Tim Beckham, SS, Bal, age 27, 3.5 WAR, 3.5 WAR (2017)
- Pedro Alvarez, 3b, Bal, age 30, 0.0 WAR, 3.0 WAR (2013)
- Eric Hosmer, 1B, KC, age 28, 4.1 WAR, 4.1 WAR (2017)
- Brian Matusz, P, NA, age 30, in AAA, 3.0 WAR (2010)
- Buster Posey, C, SF, age 30, 4.3 WAR, 7.7 WAR (2012)
- Kyle Shipworth, C, NA, age 27, NA, 0.0 WAR (2013 – 4 games)
- Yonder Alonso, 1B, Cle, age 30, 2.4 War, 2.4 War (2017)
- Gordon Beckham, 2b, Sea, age 31, -0.1 WAR, 2.3 WAR (2009)
- Aaron Crow, P, NA, age 31, NA, 1.0 WAR (2012)
- Jason Castro, C, Min, age 30, 1.6 WAR, 4.4 WAR (2013)
- Justin Smoak, 1B, Tor, age 31, 3.4 WAR, 3.4 WAR (2017)
- Jemile Weeks, 2B, ChC, age 31, in AAA, 1.8 WAR (2011)
- Brett Wallace, 1B, NA, age 31, NA, 0.6 WAR (2015)
- Aaron Hicks, OF, NYY, age 28, 3.3 WAR, 3.3 WAR (2017)
- Ethan Martin, P, NA, age 28, NA, -0.1 (2014)
- Brett Lawrie, 3B, NA, age 28, NA, 2.6 WAR (2011)
- David Cooper, 1B, NA, age 30, NA, -0.1 WAR (2012)
- Ike Davis, 1B, LAD, age 30, NA, 2.9 WAR (2010)
- Andrew Cashner, P, Tex, age 31, 1.9 WAR, 2.6 WAR (2013)
- Josh Fields, P, LAD, age 32, 0.3 WAR, 1.5 WAR (2013)
- Ryan Perry, P, NA, age 30, NA, 0.2 WAR (2011)
- Reese Havens, 2B, NA, age 31, NA, NA
- Allan Dykstra, 1B, NA, age 30, NA, NA
- Anthony Hewitt, 3B, NA, age 28, NA, NA
- Christian Friedrich, P, SF, age 30, in AAA, 1.8 WAR (2016)
- Daniel Shlereth, P, Fl, age 31, in AAA, 0.1 (2009)
- Carlos Gutierrez, P, NA, age 31, NA, NA
- Gerrit Cole, P, Hou, age 27, 3.1 WAR, 5.5 WAR (2015)
- Lonnie Chrisenhall, OF, Cle, age 29, 1.4 WAR, 1.9 WAR (2015)
- Casey Kelly, P, age 28, in AAA, 0.2 WR (2016)
Of the 30 players selected in the first round of the 2008 draft, only 63% were still playing professional baseball last year where (11% of those had been drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates). Only 50% of which were in the majors last year (of those 13% had been drafted by the Pirates.) Only 20% had a 2017 WAR of 3.0 or higher (of which 17% were drafted and playing for the Pirates.) Only 30% ever had a WAR of 3.0 or higher (of which 22% were drafted by the Pirates and playing for the Pirates at the time.)
The point of this is drafting and developing major league talent is tough. There are 50 rounds in the MLB annual draft, plus compensatory picks. Then there are international signings. The amount of players given an opportunity to make it to the major leagues seems endless, but only a few ever make it, fewer still sustain even a moderate level of success, and fewer still become stars. The high-dollar clubs can afford to miss on draft and develop because they can outspend players as the stars progress through their careers. Plus, the high-dollar clubs can outspend for the international free agents. So, the draft is critical. The Pirates have not been great at draft and develop. Likely average to a little below average. But, they have not been terrible when compared to other clubs. The fact the Pirates have the 5th most wins over the last five years in MLB indicates they’ve found ways to compete. And Nutting’s rational and patient approach deserves a bit more time. Queue the outrage in 3… 2… 1…