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Do The Pittsburgh Pirates Miss Pitching Guru Jim Benedict More Than Expected?

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Jason Rollison (Featured BBBA Writer/Owner – piratesbreakdown.com) 

This past off-season the Miami Marlins hired away former Pittsburgh Pirates’ pitching guru, Jim Benedict and named him their Vice President of Pitching Development, which is a new position specifically created for the for the former minor league pitcher turned advance scout.

Despite being credited hand-in-hand with Ray Searage for their numerous reclamation projects, Benedict’s specific contributions were at times difficult to fully quantify.

With Benedict gone, the 2016 Pittsburgh Pirates have seen their pitching devolve from an area of strength to a current weakness. Is this simply due to the loss of Benedict? Or are there other factors at play? Can we draw any conclusions from Benedict’s new team’s performance?

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The Pittsburgh Pirates Payroll In 2016 + Roster That Could Have Been

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Jason Rollison (Featured BBBA Writer/Owner – piratesbreakdown.com) 

After a second consecutive exit from the playoffs by way of the wild card game, the Pittsburgh Pirates promised a bigger payroll this season, but could they have done better?

In December, Neal Huntington and Frank Connelly both hinted the Pirates target payroll would be approximately $105 million for opening day.  As it stands, the Pirates opening day payroll was about $100 million.

That wouldn’t be so bad if the team’s pitching staff wasn’t off to a rough start, the first base platoon partner wasn’t gone after two weeks, and the Cubs weren’t the center of the baseball universe at the moment.  The saying goes, “hindsight is 20/20,” but we consider what could have been if the Pirates had spent their money a little differently.

Let’s start with the breakdown of the opening day payroll broken down by position: (Note: Only players included on opening day 25-man roster/DL are included below.)

The rules for this little experiment are simple.  We cannot exceed $105 million, and our payroll has to include 28 players due to Jared Hughes, Elias Diaz, and Jung-Ho Kang starting the season on the major league disabled list. 

If we choose any players the Pirates did not sign, we will assume the Pirates could have signed said player(s) to the same terms.  Knowing what we know now, here’s a look at what the Pirates roster could have been.

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The Numbers Behind John Jaso’s Early Success

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Jason Rollison (Featured BBBA Baseball Writer/Owner – piratesbreakdown.com) 

To say nothing of his more-than-capable defense at first base, John Jaso has been a revelation at the top spot in the batting order for the Pittsburgh Pirates.

John Jaso has put up some solid slash lines over his career, so it should not come as much of a surprise that he currently carries a .414 on-base percentage as part of an .897 OPS.

How has Jaso been able to acclimate himself so quickly and effectively to the top of the Pirates’ lineup?

A Solid Foundation

For Jaso, his propensity for quality plate appearances starts with the first pitch.

His F-Strike percentage (percentage of plate appearances that start with a strike) clocks in at 53.3 percent. That figure represents the third-best on the club, behind Starling Marte (52.5) and Gregory Polanco (51.6). While the importance of first-pitch strikes has been debated in recent years, good things happen for Jaso on a 1-0 count. More on that later.

In looking a bit deeper at what Jaso is actually seeing on the first pitch, the four-seam fastball is seen the most at 46 percent. It likely may not even matter what type of pitch Jaso sees first, as chances are it won’t be anywhere near the strike zone.

His Zone % (percentage of pitches seen in the strike zone) is 47.8 percent, which is not significant on its own until coupled with his O-Swing % (percentage of pitches outside of the zone that a batter swings at).

Jaso’s O-Swing percentage clocks at 16.5 percent, nearly two-thirds better than the league average of 30 percent. Incredibly, he isn’t even the best on this Pirates team in this regard. That honor belongs to David Freese and his 15.7 percent clip. Regardless, Jaso’s rate is fourth-best in the National League for anyone with 50 or more plate appearances.

The foundation that Jaso lays in his plate appearances almost feels as if he dictates to pitchers how the PA will go. He absolutely refuses to chase anything out of the zone, and such an approach can force an opposing pitcher to offer something he may not necessarily want to offer on the next pitch, which usually comes at a 1-0 count.

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For The Pittsburgh Pirates – There Is No Next Year

Following a quiet offseason, the Pittsburgh Pirates enter 2016 hoping a large group of top prospects are prepared to make significant contributions to the big league club down the stretch.

Following a quiet offseason, the Pittsburgh Pirates enter 2016 hoping a large group of top prospects are prepared to make significant contributions to the big league club down the stretch.

Jason Rollison  (Featured BBBA Writer/Owner – pbcbreakdown.com) 

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In 2006, the Pittsburgh Pirates started their “We Will” campaign.  Of course, that year is well remembered as the year the Pirates decided to commit to the rebuilding effort.

The next year, Neal Huntington would be brought in as the new general manager, and the completion of the rebuild process was brought to fruition in just six years after a rotating door of front office staff and players failed to reverse the losing streak that nearly forced the team to move.

The “We Will” campaign was meant to embody the work ethic and integrity expected of every member of the Pittsburgh Pirates organization.

Instead, it became the target of ridicule from many fans.  The banners hanging from the façade of PNC Park did not help matter as disgruntled fans poured out following loss after loss.

Even in success, Pirates fans couldn’t dodge the pangs of defeat.

Following the success of the team in 2013 making a laughingstock of Johnny Cueto in the wild card game and taking the Cardinals to the brink of elimination before melting down in game five of the NLDS, the fans and players expected more, but who could have possibly anticipated the wonders that were Madison Bumgarner and Jake Arrieta?

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