The Mets head to Pittsburgh right as the Pirates have caught fire. They have won 11 of their last 12, vaulting themselves back into the NL playoff picture just in time for the trade deadline. Their emergence makes an already murky Wild Card race even wilder, with all but four NL teams within six games of a playoff spot. Regardless of how aggressive they act in the next week on the trade front, the Pirates will be a fun team to watch in the season’s final two months. Two somewhat under the radar contributors and one perennial star are among the players that have helped the Pirates climb back in contention. Those players are among those highlighted in the stats preview below.
Discount Dickerson: A late offseason trade acquisition, Corey Dickerson has been a major presence in the Pittsburgh lineup. He has always added value with his bat, as even his worst season at the plate was major league average (according to his .260 TAv in 2016), but this year he has been well above average (.302 TAv). Part of the change has been his contact rate, which he has increased from 71.3% in 2017 to 80.8% in 2018. He has especially improved at making contact on pitches in the zone, with that contact rate improving from 71.1% to 84.0%. Obviously pitches in the zone are the desirable ones to hit, so it is no surprise that this jump has been in lockstep with his overall offensive production. His improved offense paired with above average defense (6.4 FRAA) has Dickerson projected to finish the season as almost a four-win player. Not bad for someone the Rays basically threw away five months ago.
Richard’s Rates: Tyler Glasnow and Felipe Vasquez are probably the two most recognizable names in the Pirates’ bullpen, but they are not the best reliever, at least by DRA. Richard Rodriguez has been a force in his first full season in the majors. His K-BB% of 27.1% is twelfth best among relievers. (The best Mets reliever by K-BB% is Paul Sewald at 16.7%, 72nd best in 2018). To put that into context, the top five relievers in K-BB% in 2018 are Josh Hader, Edwin Diaz, Sean Doolittle, Dellin Betances and Aroldis Chapman, meaning Rodriguez is right outside the top tier of relievers by that measure. He will be a key piece in the pen down the stretch, and would likely fetch a good return in trade if the Pirates decide to sell.
Starling’s Upgrade: Just in case you have not been paying much attention to the Pirates this year (and let’s be honest, why would you after they traded away two of their most exciting players over the offseason), here is a courtesy reminder that Starling Marte is still good at baseball. In fact, he may be better than he was the last time the team was relevant (and before his suspension). In just 90 games, he has eclipsed his previous season high for WARP with 4.1. A good part of the extra value added is from a power spike (shocker in 2018, right?), as he is on pace for career highs in home runs (currently at 16), ISO (.211) and SLG (.503). While his TAv of .312 suggests his improvements are not fluky, he is carrying a 17.8% home run per fly ball rate, which is a little above league average. For the Pirates’ sake, though, they hope he can continue to produce at the career best rates he has so far this year.
The Good: Pirates hitters have the fewest combined strikeouts of any team at 763. The Mets have 852.
The Bad: Pirates pitchers have thrown the most combined wild pitches of any team with 61. The Mets have thrown the least with 12 (and the next closest team has thrown 24).
The Ugly: Lefty Steven Brault has been worth more as a batter (0.2 WARP) than as a pitcher (0.0 WARP).
This weekend could be one full of hugs, as the Mets have several players who could be traded to contenders before Tuesday’s deadline. Perhaps one of the more intriguing ones would be Jose Bautista, who has hit .229/.384/.414 with the Mets. This trip to PNC Park will only be the second time Bautista has played there since being traded by the Pirates to the Blue Jays in August 2008.
Photo credit: David Richard – USA Today Sports