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Mound Visit: Where is the impact talent? ☕️


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STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- The Pirates' 2019 season is a wash. That much is clear.

Sure, sure ... there are two full months of baseball to be played, but with so many teams to leapfrog for a theoretical Wild Card spot, can even the most optimistic among you see a path to the postseason?

The team seems content to explain away 2019 as an injury-plagued year that robbed them of key pillars: Jameson Taillon, Gregory Polanco, Corey Dickerson and Francisco Cervelli, to say nothing of the less impactful injuries along the way.

That's true, to an extent. But the loss of those key figures for large swaths of the season brings to the forefront a larger, looming question.

Did the Pirates have enough impact talent to begin with?


To answer this question, let's talk WAA, or Wins Above Average.

While many folks use WAR (Wins Above Replacement) liberally, its use is a bit misleading. Let's focus on the replacement part of the acronym. By comparing a player to a readily available Triple-A replacement player, as WAR does, the metric fails to capture just how valuable a player is compared to his peers. WAA gets us a little closer by instead comparing the wins value of a player against the average wins value of his peers at the position. The idea is to better gauge a team's MLB talent vs other teams' MLB talent, instead of AAA or "Quad-A" talent.

And the Pirates find themselves looking up to many of those peers at many positions by WAA:

[caption id="attachment_864107" align="aligncenter" width="799"] Team WAA (Wins Above Average) for each position, with the Pirates highlighted (Click to enlarge)[/caption]

The club finds itself staring up at the top half of the league at nearly every offensive position other than first, second and center field. It's no coincidence that two of those positions are highlighted by the club's best offensive players, and the third benefits from a downward trend in value across the league.

On the mound, the Pirates' relief unit is on the fringe of the top half of the league, chiefly on the back of Felipe Vazquez (who might be plying his trade elsewhere by the time you read this column). The starting pitching has been wrecked, of course, and it might even surprise some that the staff is ranked 20th out of the league's units.

Are we making too much out of this? After all, injuries do play a part, but consider the following:

• In the years since the Pirates last made the playoffs in 2015, the eventual World Series winner has landed in the top three of overall WAA each and every season.
• If we expand our look to the teams that qualified for the playoffs over those same three seasons, each team landed a top 10 ranking in at least three positions. The average number of positions in which those same playoff teams landed top 10 rankings was 4.89.
• One constant was that each playoff team carried a top 15 ranking in the "all pitching" categorization.

Oh, and if you're wondering how that 2015 Pirates team looked...

[caption id="attachment_864140" align="aligncenter" width="800"] 2015 WAA rankings and figures (Click to enlarge)[/caption]

This, perhaps more than any other argument, statistical or otherwise, shows the need for impact talent. Such talent can be infused by a significant trade revolving around, oh I don't know, a reliable and electrifying closer.

It may take a bold move to get there, but the Pirates might need a talent transfusion of a more significant scope than they think.

History tells us so.


July 30: Frankie's value
July 29: Melky vs Corey
July 27: Pirates pitcher home run data
July 22: Can Agrazal stick?

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