Starting with my favorite team (Pittsburgh Pirates) and looking first at what appears to be the major difference with the team going into 2015. Many critics said that the number one priority was signing catcher Russell Martin. His name came up often in the Most Valuable Player conversation in both seasons that he was a Bucco. He finished 13th in the voting last year and 24th in 2013. Yes, that was distant to Andrew McCutchen both years, but his performance was stellar.
He provided pop at the catcher position that probably hadn't been seen since the Manny Sanguillen era. His 41 doubles and 26 homers over the last two seasons, while also hitting .290 a season ago, were the first positive offensive numbers from the position since Jason Kendall in the 90's before his ankle injury.
However, as good as his bat was, Martin was looked at more for his defense. His almost 39% caught stealing rate while throwing out 36 runners in 2013 and 37 in 2014, led all of baseball. His excellent framing abilities led to another startling fact. Pirate pitchers had their highest K/9 ratios in team history (7.72 in 2013 and 7.59 in 2014). There are only two times in Pirate history that pitchers had a 7.00 or better in the K/9 category. The first was in 1969 when the Pirates posted a 7.00 K/9 ratio. That team finished third in the National League East, behind the Cubs and Miracle Mets, with lefty Bob Veale and righties Steve Blass, Dock Ellis and Jim Bunning. They also had Sanguillen in his second full season behind the dish, finishing 11th in the NL MVP chase.
The second unit will amaze you on the K/9 ratio. It was the 2012 Pittsburgh Pirates. That's right, the pitching staff was already molding into shape with a 7.48 ratio. What does that say? Does it say that Martin's contribution wasn't amazing over the last two seasons? Definitely not. However, what it might suggest that there may be more to the change than Super Russ. Could it be pitching coach Ray Searage? Or could it be some to do with the arrivals of pitchers AJ Burnett, Gerrit Cole, Jeff Locke, Vance Worley, etc.? Just a thought.
So with all of that being said, let's look at who remains to catch for the Pirates in 2015. Neal Huntington went out and acquired Francisco Cervelli from the Yankees very quickly into this offseason to take the place of Martin. Here's the good. In 2010, Cervelli played in his career-high game total of 93. He hit .271 with 11 doubles and 38 runs batted in. Here's the bad news. He's only managed 66 games over the past two seasons with injuries killing his seasons. While he is ours for the keeping until 2017, the question of his injuries make this a very questionable move.
The backup for our Buccos remains the same in veteran Chris Stewart. He hit .294 in 49 games as a backup. He also threw out nine of 39 runners in 2014. While not the league average of 28%, it is respectable at 23%. The good news on Stewart is that in a full season as Martin's replacement in New York in 2013, he threw out 17 of 54 runners, or 31%, above the league average. Here's another nice stat on Stewart. In 2013, the Yankees pitching staff also had a 7.7 K/9 ratio. Stewart may not be Martin, but he is also a nice, defensive catcher as well.
The Pirates may have another glove that can play behind the plate in 2015 in Tony Sanchez. Sanchez has hit well in two short stints with the Pirates over 2013-14. The stints amount to 48 games, hitting .252 with a pair of homers each season. Sanchez has not proved defensively though, to be worth the number four pick overall in 2009. In 27 attempts to throw out runners, he has managed to catch only four base runners (roughly 15%) in those games. Those numbers in 2014 at Indianapolis are even worse. He managed to catch 8 of 63 runners (13%). The numbers defensively are so bad that the Pirates are working with Sanchez at first base to spell Pedro Alvarez. Sanchez may not be long for catching.
There is some positive news on the horizon for the Buccos behind the dish. Elias Diaz will probably start at Indy to become the heir apparent at some point. Hopefully, he can keep both the offensive and defensive numbers from a year ago. He hit .312 between Altoona and Indy, along with 21 doubles and six homers. He also caught 37 of 118 runners, a notch above 31%.
Next time, we'll take a look at the infield, which includes a full season of Josh Harrison at third and hopefully, a rejuvenated Pedro Alvarez at first.
Thanks for reading,