The Pirates currently own a team ERA of 2.97, tops in baseball. That is a far cry from the pitching performance we saw during the 2008 season, which is a very nice surprise. Understandably, it is difficult to believe that this early success will continue. Is the impressive pitching the real deal or a small sample size mirage?
Upon first glance, no, the good pitching will not continue. That league-leading ERA is in no way supported by the team’s peripheral stats. The Pirates are ranked last in K/9, 14th in BB/9, and have allowed the second lowest BABIP. They have the third lowest HR/9, but that number has been greatly aided by a 5.8% HR/FB rate. That number usually falls between 10% and 12%, so expect some regression. In other words, the pitching staff has allowed plenty of fly balls, but some good fortune has kept those balls in the park. The Pirates should also expect to see some regression in their league-leading strand rate. The Bucs currently have a 4.30 team FIP, 1.33 runs higher than the team’s ERA. That is easily the largest discrepancy in baseball.
However, one way to outperform your peripheral stats is to get some good defense behind you. Pirate pitchers have received just that kind of help early this season. The Pirates are second in both raw defensive efficiency and park-adjusted defensive efficiency. They are also ranked sixth in Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR). The defense will likely take a hit with Jack Wilson on the DL, but thus far, it has been a pleasant surprise.
Let’s enjoy this solid pitching while we can, because if/when our good luck runs out, we could be in for a bit of trouble. Then again, maybe the pitching staff is due for some extended good fortune after the disaster in 2008. I mean, Ross Ohlendorf and a depleted lineup are leading Jake Peavy and the Padres 8-3 as I type this. Crazy things can happen.