The Pirates versus the Cardinals: How the Teams Match Up

Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

We have a best-of-five series against the Pirates coming up. Let's break these teams down and find out how they pair up.

So, the latest word as of press-time is that Edward Mujica is definitely joining the team on its Division Series roster. In the other key move, Joe Kelly is projected as the Game 3 starter, with either Wacha or Miller to start Game 4.

One thing to think about, as these plans come out, is that both PNC Park and Busch III are extremely forgiving to pitchers with regard to home runs. Even though PNC Park plays fairly even over all, it is actually the second most home run suppressing park in the majors, after Marlins Park. PNC Park yields only about 68% as many homers compared to a neutral park. Busch III allows about 84% of the neutral park home run rate. Someone who is a good pitcher otherwise, but who might have some difficulty with home runs (Shelby) might find PNC Park welcoming.

Don't ask me to defend that Joe Kelly pitching Game 3 decision. That seems to be a pure results-over-peripherals decision. If I had my way, Miller would be pitching Game 3 and Wacha Game 4.


How do the Cardinals compare to the Pirates in hitting? Here are their park-adjusted numbers:


Matt Holliday - 148 wRC+

Matt Carpenter - 147

Matt Adams - 136

Yadier Molina - 134

Carlos Beltran - 132

David Freese - 106

Jon Jay - 104

Pete Kozma - 50 (Daniel Descalso 80)

The Pirates have a more lopsided order:

Andrew McCutchen - 157

Marlon Byrd - 137

Starling Marte - 121 (Jose Tabata - 118)

Gaby Sanchez - 117 (Justin Morneau - 98)

Neil Walker - 114

Pedro Alvarez - 111

Russell Martin - 101

Clint Barmes - 52

While McCutchen is a better hitter than anyone on the Cardinals, the Cardinals have a more solid offensive core. The Cardinals have a much higher team wRC+ at 106 than the Pirates at 98. The offensive production from Allen Craig is made up (at least in the starting 8) by Matt Adams.

The Pirates probably have a better bench than the Cards, especially since Adams is starting at first, and Allen Craig will not be appearing. Infielder Jordy Mercer has put up an impressive 113 wRC+. You have to wonder how long even Barmes' elite defense can keep a younger player with 60 more points of wRC+ out of a starting role.

Finally, let's give Pedro Alvarez a slow clap. It is not easy to be the sixth-best hitting starter on a not-great offensive team while knocking 36 homers out of the park.


Starting Pitching

Adam Wainwright - 70 FIP-

Lance Lynn - 90

Joe Kelly - 110

Shelby Miller - 101 (Michael Wacha - 80)

Ugh. I can't even look at that without getting mad about the Joe Kelly situation again.

Here are the Pirates' projected starters:

AJ Burnett - 77

Gerritt Cole - 83

Francisco Liriano - 83

Charlie Morton - 98

Once you see the Pirates' starters' park-neutralized numbers, we look much worse on that front. I am assuming that Morton pitches Game 4, though I am happy to be corrected; the Pirates' first three starters are official. Honestly, I'm a bit shocked by those numbers and how poorly we match up on the pitching side. Our non-park-neutralized numbers look much closer (a 3.45 FIP for our starters and 3.46 for theirs). Mostly, I wish Jaime Garcia were healthy.


Relief Pitching

The Cardinals' relief numbers look excellent:

Michael Wacha - 34 FIP-*/**

Trevor Rosenthal - 52

John Axford - 57 * (114#)

Kevin Siegrist - 63

Carlos Martinez - 64

Randy Choate - 67

Seth Maness - 94

Edward Mujica - 103

* Denotes fewer than 20 innings pitched in relief for the Cardinals.

** May start game 4.

# Full season numbers, including with Brewers.


The Pirates relievers look great as far as their closer/set-up pairing, but weaker beyond that. The numbers below reflect my best guess for who will be in the bullpen, based in part on their one-game play-in bullpen. They've kept most of these guys in regular service all season long.

Mark Melancon - 44

Jason Grilli - 53

Tony Watson - 87

Vin Mazzarro - 90

Justin Wilson - 93

Jeanmar Gomez - 95

Bryan Morris - 134

Essentially, if the Pirates can keep their starters running efficiently, they could have an edge over the Cardinals, while the Cardinals would very likely win a battle of the bullpens. Being patient and forcing the Pirates to expose some of their lesser relievers in the 6th and 7th innings may pay off.



Do I have to? I acknowledge the limitations of defensive metrics in a single season. Still, as defenders go, the Cardinals are pretty good hitters.

Seriously, the only real obvious defensive assets are Pete Kozma and Yadier Molina. There are some average-ish types, basically, Matt Carpenter. Then there are some huge defensive liabilities: Beltran, Holliday, Adams, Freese, and Descalso have been just appalling in the field. Jon Jay has some bad numbers in center, although I instinctively put him closer to average.

The Pirates have two clearly elite defenders in Clint Barmes and Starling Marte. Andrew McCutchen has excellent defensive numbers in center field this year, though I wonder how much to trust them, since he has more traditionally been an average to below-average centerfielder. The rest of their defenders aren't much to write home about.

Cumulatively, the Pirates were a middle-of-the-road team, worth only 4 runs on defense, 15th in MLB. The Cardinals found themselves down a full five wins on defense, 27th in the league. Neither team is outstanding, but the Cardinals definitely fare worse on defense.



The Pirates hold a modest edge in baserunning, with their team's modest speed netting them 2.2 runs (12th in MLB) relative to -0.9 runs for the Cards (17th in the league). I don't expect the series to turn on baserunning, though stranger things have happened. Watch for speedster Starling Marte (44 SB) to test Yadi's arm.


Cumulatively, the Cardinals' superior offense and the Pirates' superior defense evened the playing field over the season; the Cardinals logged 23.3 wins from their position players, while the Pirates got 23.1 wins from their position players. Cardinals' pitching narrowly edged the Pirates in total value, 16.7 to 16.1 WAR. By any measure, these teams are very evenly matched. This should be an exciting series.


PSA - Remember Games 1 (today) and 2 (tomorrow) both start early. I will try to program a game thread and multiple overflows.

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