Baseball is back and it’s time to assess how the different franchises have adapted to the ‘New Normal’ and unfortunately for the Pittsburgh Pirates, it’s not well, as Max Lane explains.
Baseball is back, and unfortunately for the Pittsburgh Pirates, the short season doesn’t appear to be having a positive effect on Pittsburgh’s grim projections. The Pirates have started off 2-9 and are dead last in the NL Central. The story of the season has been the Bucs’ ineptitude at the dish, while their cobbled together pitching staff has performed slightly above expectations. The Pirates are an interesting team for potential bettors, as their poor offense and occasionally strong pitching suits them as a potential over/under pick, while betting on some of their sputtering stars could yield some profit.
The Pirates have struggled at the plate this season. They are dead last in team batting average and on-base percentage, 28th in OPS, and next to last in runs for teams who have played at least nine games. Bryan Reynolds, who hit .314 last season, is off to a 4-for-31 start, while Josh Bell is hitting .194, going 7-for-36. Pittsburgh has only scored more than five runs once this year, while they have scored three or less runs six times in their first 11 games.
LACK OF BULLPEN DEPTH
Injuries have struck the Pittsburgh bullpen. Keone Kela, Clay Holmes, Kyle Crick, and Michael Feliz are out injured, forcing the Pirates to dip into a shallow pool of relief options. The call-ups have had a mixture of results: JT Brubaker and Sam Howard have been effective thus far, while Miguel Del Pozo and Robbie Erlin have struggled. As the season wears on, the health and overall consistency of the bullpen will remain a concern.
STARTING PITCHING SURPRISES
Despite the absence of Jameson Tallion and Chris Archer, the Pirates have received solid performances from their depth fill-ins thus far. Derek Holland has been the Bucs’ best pitcher this season, and his .971 WHIP and 4.01 FIP are best amongst Pirates starters. His slightly inflated ERA is partially due to poor relief pitching in Holland’s wake, while his ability to limit the long ball has proved to be his biggest run-saving asset. The combination of Steven Brault and Chad Kuhl in the back of the rotation has also displayed the ability to eat innings, and their continued success could allow the Bucs to stay competitive without their primary starters.
BREAKOUT HITTING PERFORMANCES
While the Pirates’ big names have had difficulties at the plate, some underappreciated hitters have started off hot in 2020. Colin Moran leads Pittsburgh with five home runs, good for third in all of baseball, while also posting a .976 OPS in 40 plate appearances. Fellow third baseman Philip Evans is also off to a roaring start, hitting .393 with a league-leading .485 on base percentage. Pittsburgh signed Evans as a free agent this season, and the former Met will hope to keep producing at the plate. The Pirates have also been able to take advantage of the new NL DH rule this season, allowing Bell, Moran, and Evans to play at the same time. If they can get a resurgence of power from Bell, those three hitters could help the Bucs break out of their early hitting woes.
The Pirates’ weak offensive production makes them a good target for over/under betting. As of now, the Pirates have shockingly hit the over in 54.5% of their games, good for sixth in the league. Although Pittsburgh has gotten a bit lucky at the plate, scoring slightly more runs than their OPS would indicate, the real culprit behind their overs success has been poor pitching luck. Despite only having a slightly below league average ERA, the Pirates rank 11th out of 15 teams in the NL in runs allowed per game, partially due to an NL worst walks allowed total. I believe that this spike in runs allowed is temporary, as I am encouraged by the Bucs ability to limit the long ball, and the rise of more consistent relief pitching talent, which should help cut down on walks. I would be keen to pick the under on some upcoming games, especially when the Pirates bullpen is well rested. Monitoring the Pirates progress at the plate, as well as Vegas’ confidence in the Bucs, will be key in making strong over/under bets.
For the August 5th game against the Twins, Colin Moran is +850 to hit a home run on DraftKings. Especially against right-handed pitching, I like these odds with Moran. Moran may come back to earth soon, but either way, I still like his power vs right handed pitching. The Pirates have hit lefties better than righties better thus far this season, but I don’t expect this trend to continue, especially given the career splits for the Bucs’ big names. Both Reynolds, Bell, and Gregory Polanco perform considerably better against right handed pitching, and I believe that their over/under .5 hits prop bets could be good picks against right handed opposition.
I don’t foresee the Pirates turning things around anytime soon, but I believe we will see some better performances out of some of the Pirates’ stars in the upcoming weeks. For those looking to bet on Pittsburgh, monitoring the status of their bullpen and looking for weak right handed opponents will be the keys to a successful betting strategy. As for futures bets, I cannot see a situation where the Pirates make the playoffs, and I would stay away from Pittsburgh as a playoff, division winner, or World Series pick. The future is far away for the Bucs, who will continue to scrap for wins in the pandemic shortened season.