The Pirates as a Blueprint

Dave · September 24, 2013 at 10:42 am · Filed Under Mariners 

I just published a 2,200 word piece over at FanGraphs on five things the Pirates did right as an organization to build a playoff team after 21 years of losing. I think it’s an instructive piece for Mariners fans, especially ones who have bought into the BS the organization has been selling for the last year and change. The Pirates are winning with almost exactly the kind of roster that the early-Jack-Zduriencik-era management teams tried to put together; an average offense, elite defense, good baserunning, and a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.

Despite the narrative that some people like to push, it is entirely possible to build a winning team through intelligent roster design, and the Pirates are a great example of how a team in this situation can do exactly that. Obviously, having Andrew McCutchen as the centerpiece is pretty helpful, but the rest of the Pirates roster is essentially undervalued role players and solid buy low acquisitions from a front office that knew what they were doing. Over the last few years, the team brought in key contributors like Russell Martin, A.J. Burnett, Francisco Liriano, Jason Grilli, and Mark Melancon for basically peanuts, and the core of this Pirates team is mostly discarded veterans from other clubs.

The Pirates are proof of concept that the original plan that the M’s tried to implement five years ago was a pretty good one. The problem came when they overreacted to the 2010 team’s failures and changed course entirely, eventually getting away from finding value and putting an emphasis on things that don’t actually matter.

The 2013 Pirates should give Mariners fans hope. If they can bring in a front office that is actually committed to the concepts that lead to winning baseball, putting together a contending club is possible, even with their long history of losing. All the things that are regularly said about the Mariners organization and ownership have also been said of the Pirates, with accusations of apathy towards winning and a sole desire to maximize profits. The Pirates were basically the east coast Mariners, just with an extra decade of lousy seasons in the bank. And now they’re one of the best teams in baseball, primarily thanks to a front office that pursued the strategy that the Mariners started to implement back in 2009.

Had they stuck with it, perhaps the Mariners would be the Pirates today. Had they not radically changed course and pursued dingers and veteran leadership, shipping out those who objected to placing a premium on things that don’t matter, the Mariners might very well be a winning team right now. That is both a frustrating and hopeful reality at the same time. On the one hand, it’s a lament of what the organization actually did, but it’s also a reminder that this is fixable with the right people in charge.

Maybe you’re skeptical that Howard Lincoln and Chuck Armstrong will hire the right people. Maybe they won’t. Maybe we’ll get more of the same, and the Mariners will continue to slide into irrelevance. But at this point, there are so many blueprints that point to how this should work that it is hard to believe that they can’t at least give an analytical front office a real shot at fixing this thing. It’s not just the A’s and Rays anymore. The Indians are in wild card position after having the off-season the Mariners should have had last year. The Pirates are winning with the plan the Mariners abandoned.

It’s time for the Mariners to get on board. The Pirates have, and they’re going to the postseason.


23 Responses to “The Pirates as a Blueprint”

  1. Westside guy on September 24th, 2013 11:05 am

    I really hope the ownership group will indeed do some house cleaning as soon as the season ends. I have zero confidence in Zduriencik’s ability to solve these problems (and yes, he created these problems in the first place).

    It doesn’t really matter if he’s strongly influenced by Wedge or not. If he is, then he’s not really a person who should be in charge of anything. If he’s not, then he needs to be gone because his thinking is just too far outdated.

    I haven’t been one of the “blame HowChuck for everything” crowd, but I do specifically wonder just how much Chuck Armstrong meddles with the running of the team. We know he was the one really pushing for Griffey’s return, and (I think I remember hearing) he was the one that did the negotiations for year two as well. He just comes across like the sort of person who would buy into the mentality that Raul is the best guy ever, and who would think Wedge is a brilliant manager. That’s kind of moot, though, since it’s not the sort of thing we’ll ever find out unless someone writes one of those tell-all books down the road. And, even in that unlikely scenario, if that’s the model ownership wants and the GM can’t find a way to make it work… you’ve still got the wrong GM in place.

  2. LongDistance on September 24th, 2013 11:25 am

    Right. On. Especially about the 2010-11 panic. What a screaming mess, and all because ticket sales were projected to (and eventually did) plummet.

    I’ve got zero to add, beyond how although it’s cold comfort to know someone with way more stats savvy than I could ever hope to have, possesses the same gut instinct, it’s at least comfort.

    Note to G.B.: if you ever feel like wandering out of your luxury pressbox with hot and cold running scotch, you can come kiss my aching, cheapseats ass… after you’ve finished with Raul’s and Kendrys’s…

    (I get so tired of Fanhead hero worship… and especially in guys who, as well, spout party propaganda — in this case M’s Front Office Ticket Sales crap — rather than dealing with the facts.)

  3. maqman on September 24th, 2013 11:31 am

    The Pirates owe much of their success to their 5 person analytics department, their focus on defense (which has improved their defensive runs saved by close to 150 runs since 2010). Plus the fact that their manager, FO and players have bought into their plan, as have their trainers,strength and conditioning staff and their minor league teams.

  4. qwerty on September 24th, 2013 11:38 am

    “Valuing things that don’t matter….”

    This should be on a banner at Safeco.

  5. stevemotivateir on September 24th, 2013 11:39 am

    I was literally arguing the exact same thing this morning, that the Pirate are exactly what the Mariners should/could have been.

    It will be real interesting to see just how many people lose their jobs this offseason and who they’re replaced with.

    I’m more curious about management personnel changes than I am with the players.

  6. Gritty Veteran Poster on September 24th, 2013 11:57 am

    I wonder if Jack Z. was pushed to change direction? I guess we’ll never know for sure.

    To me, the biggest problem is that this doesn’t appear to be a plum job right now. How are they going to attract top level candidates?

    I shudder to imagine what Jack and Wedge could be replaced with.

    Chuck LaMar and Jim Tracey? Jim Bowden and Buddy Bell?


  7. shortbus on September 24th, 2013 12:00 pm

    “The Indians are in wild card position after having the off-season the Mariners should have had last year.”

    Dammit. Dammit. God. Dammit.

    At this point I’m just hoping Nintendo sells their stake and the new owners clean house. Are Lincoln and Armstrong to blame? After ten years of failure under two GM’s and umpteen field managers it’s time to look higher up in the organization.

  8. wsm on September 24th, 2013 12:07 pm

    There are a lot of similarities between this pirates team and the 2009 Mariners. That Mariner team would’ve captured the 2nd WC slot if it had existed back then.

    Is this Pirates team going to be able to sustain success when the 2009 Mariners couldn’t? Jack didn’t suddenly change his philosophy in 2010 and that team couldn’t recapture 2009’s success.

    Pretty much their entire pitching staff had career years. Any chance that happens again? The defense is great, but also pretty much the same as the one they ran out there in 2012.

    The Pirates are a great blueprint to have a good season when you get lucky with the right guys. We’ll see how well it works next year.

  9. smb on September 24th, 2013 12:34 pm

    It pains me to think we might almost BE the Pirates right now had we managed to hang onto Adam Jones. Maybe not quite as good as McCutch (or maybe slightly better, I don’t know), but seems he’d be a decent comp and is one of the major missing pieces in the gulf between the lowly M’s and the now-mighty Pirates.

    I am also completely flummoxed that in 2013 I have to watch the Pirates and the Royals finish with winning records, and the Tigers be one of the most talented teams in the game…if you had told 1996-me of this scenario, I would have laughed in your face. My, how far this franchise has fallen since then.

  10. shortbus on September 24th, 2013 1:25 pm

    Want to have a good cry? If it weren’t for two stupid trades our outfield to start this season could have been Jones, Choo and Guti/Saunders. All under team-friendly contracts. No Ibanez (except maybe as a DH), no Morse and no Bay.

    And if we don’t sign Josh Fields…who knows, maybe we even have Trout. All without spending much money and without giving up any other talent that’s currently with the team.

    Welp I’m off to find a bus to jump in front of.

  11. mrb on September 24th, 2013 1:46 pm

    Sliding “in to” irrelevance? All due respect to LL… but we’ve been there for years!

  12. PackBob on September 24th, 2013 2:08 pm

    Among many things, the worst the Mariners did this year was to abandon outfield defense. Morse and Ibanez together shouldn’t happen on any MLB team , or AAA team for that matter. The M’s may have brought the fences in, but Morse and Ibanez made the outfield larger than it had ever been.

    Good defense and base running is an aspect of the game I really enjoy, one reason I liked Ichiro so much. It’s cool that Raul was able to tie Ted Williams’ record, but it should have been as DH and DH only to make any sense at all for this Mariners team.

  13. Milendriel on September 24th, 2013 2:12 pm

    It makes me wonder just how disastrous the Figgins signing really was. If he had worked out, might the organization have stuck to the correct process? Was it their own fault for moving him to 2B, and was that a consequence of “positional bias” Dave references in his Pirates piece? Ugh.

  14. stevemotivateir on September 24th, 2013 3:06 pm

    Welp I’m off to find a bus to jump in front of.

    A short bus, or full size?

  15. Bryce on September 24th, 2013 4:26 pm

    Baker just tweeted that his sources say Z is back next year. Yippee!

    The fact that as a Cubs fan I’m infinitely more confident in their front office than Seattle’s still feels very odd and foreign to me. I guess I should get used to it.

  16. mrakbaseball on September 24th, 2013 4:29 pm

    Gross. Zduriencik’s back. Only a matter of time before they announce Wedge will return too.

  17. Paul B on September 24th, 2013 4:34 pm

    The Pirates are a great blueprint to have a good season when you get lucky with the right guys. We’ll see how well it works next year

    The 2008 Rays say “hi”.

  18. Paul B on September 24th, 2013 4:36 pm

    If Z is back, I imagine Lincoln will have him “on the hotseat”, which means his incentive will be to trade the young players for more old crap, a la Bavasi.

    What a recipe for disaster. We’ve seen it all before.

  19. Sports on a Shtick on September 24th, 2013 4:54 pm

    “Chuck Armstrong confirms Jack Zduriencik back in 2014”

    *rips up blueprint*

  20. Bremerton guy on September 24th, 2013 5:05 pm

    If this is true, this is nuts. This year, the Mariners became an afterthought for me. It used to be that I would watch or listen to all of their games on television or radio. This year, I went to no games at Safeco, saw no games on television, and rarely listened to games on the radio. I would go to to check scores and to see whether they won or lost. And I’ve been a passionate baseball fan for over fifty years. If they have engendered this much apathy in me, I can only imagine how casual fans feel about them. Giving Jack Z another year will further decimate the fan base and I expect a replay of this past summer, only worse, next year. What a mistake.

  21. scraps on September 24th, 2013 7:05 pm

    The Pirates are a great blueprint to have a good season when you get lucky with the right guys. We’ll see how well it works next year.

    “Lucky”: the bitter loser’s lament.

  22. msfanmike on September 24th, 2013 7:14 pm

    I am surprised the Kansas City Royals/Dayton Moore blueprint wasn’t mentioned. Stunned!

  23. ctdawg on September 27th, 2013 11:34 am

    The Pirates GM took over a year before Jack Z took over. In his first four years, his team won 67, 62, 57 and 72 games. Numerous articles had been written about his hot seat. He’s traded guys who have gone onto big things with other teams (Jose Bautista and Brandon Moss). His high draft picks have not done much at the major league level – including 4 top 4 picks in a row! Those are Pedro Alvarez who has been okay but people thought would be better. Tony Sanchez who was an overdraft. Jameson Taillon who is their Taijuan Walker. And lastly Gerrit Cole who debuted this season and has been great. He’s traded away all stars like Jason Bay and Nate McLouth and gotten little in return.

    You can say each of these exact things about Jack Z. As people have said, the 2013 Pirates are a lot like the 2009 Mariners but with a better bullpen that got them to the playoffs. Each team had a young superstar to build around. Now what do the Pirates to try to sustain success. Do they continue to make bargain moves to fill holes? That sure hasn’t worked for the Mariners. People have mentioned the Rays as a model in this thread but I don’t quite see the impact talent in the farm system for the Pirates to live off year after year.

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