We at Razzball realize that exporting our views across the country has damaging consequences on the blogosphere. To help make amends, we are reaching out to leading team blogs and featuring their locally blogged answers to pressing 2013 fantasy baseball questions regarding their team. We feel this approach will be fresher, more sustainable, and require less energy consumption (for us anyway). The 2013 Pirates Fantasy Baseball Preview comes courtesy Pat Lackey from Where Have You Gone Andy Van Slyke.

1) Andrew McCutchen is slowly inching up the fantasy draft boards.  Grey has gone so far as to put him as a top 3 pick this year in his top 10 for 2013 fantasy baseball.  Is that a tad too high or is McCutchen going to have a break out year in 2013?

Allow me to play the indignant Pirate fan here for a moment and ask how a player that hit 30 homers and drove in 96 runs and scored 107 times and stole 20 bases and hit .327/.400/.557 in a season in which he spent 100 games as the NL’s leading MVP candidate would still be waiting on his breakout season.

OK, I feel better now. Sorry about that, guys. The real question about McCutchen is whether he’s a .330/30 homer guy or whether he’s going to come back to earth a little bit and be more of a .290/25 homer guy. In short, is he a really good player, or is he one of the best players in baseball? So what do we know about the numbers behind McCutchen’s breakout last year? One thing that jumps out is that his BABIP leapt from .291 to .375. McCutchen’s a fast guy and his line drives also went up last year (20% to 21.9%), so a high BABIP can be expected, but .375 is pretty ridiculous and given that he strikes out nearly 20% of the time, it’s hard to see him contending for a batting title every year. That being said, I think his power surge is something that’s going to have some staying power. Look at his home run chart from last year. That’s crazy. If we want to finish the fantasy picture, I don’t think he’s ever going to be a 30 steal guy again, though, because he’s not quite as fast as he used to be and that’s exposed his terrible base stealing instincts.
To actually go ahead and answer your question, I’d say that McCutchen is probably a safe bet in the second half of the top ten, with his value increasing if you separate center fielders form corner guys. I think having him in the top three might be a little excessive with guys like Trout, Braun, and Cabrera existing and playing baseball. It’s not that it’s impossible that he’ll be that good, just that it’s I’m not exactly sure I’d be counting on it.

2) Starling Marte’s start to his career was solid but a bit alarming in terms of his strikeout rate: 50 K’s in 167 AB.  Do you see a breakout year coming from Marte in 2013 or are we concerned with a sophomore slump?

The strikeouts are definitely a concern. It’s worth noting that Marte is very raw for a player of his age because his  debut in America didn’t come until 2009, when he was already 20. Thanks to an injury in 2010, he didn’t play a full minor league season until Double-A in 2011. He’s made some strides in plate discipline in his time in the US, though, with his walk rate going from 3.8% in Double-A in 2011 to 6.5% in Triple-A last year. His strikeout rate also settled to closer to 20% in Double-A and Triple-A after being at 23.3% in High-A in 2010. That being said, I think his adjustment period at the big league level could take a while, which means that there’s a chance that he’s going to be a low batting average/low OBP player for a while. Really, a lot of his value to the Pirates comes from his defense in PNC Park’s vast left field, which isn’t much help to fantasy players. He is incredibly fast, though, and his power is developing quickly: he only hit eight home runs total in 122 games in Single-A and High-A, but he hit 12 in 129 games in Double-A and 12 last year in 99 Triple-A games to go with his five big league homers. He won’t play at all in center field this year unless McCutchen gets hurt, though, so you won’t find any hidden position value from him. All of this is to say that Marte’s got tons of raw talent and he’s worth keeping an eye on, but for now, he seems like he could be awfully slump-prone in 2013 and the potential range of outcomes for him is all over the map.

3) Well, Pedro Alvarez had a breakout of sorts last year with 30 HRs, but also struck out 180 times while hitting .244.  What are your expectations from Pedro this year?  Do you think he can make improvements on his 2012 season or is this what we should come to expect if we draft him in 2013?

One of the meanest things you can do to a Pirate fan is to point out that Pedro Alvarez’s strikeout and walk rates were virtually unchanged from 2011 (.191/.272/.289, four homers in 74 games) to 2012 (.244/.317/.467, 30 homers in 149 games). That makes Alvarez the million dollar question for the Pirates. At each stop in the minor leagues he struggled at first, then adjusted, dominated, and was promoted. In general his strikeout rates in at each level were around 25% (he’s a tick over 30% in the big leagues) and his walk rate was 12-13% (he’s at a tick under 10% in the big leagues). His power is absolutely real, and if he can get his strikeouts and walks to move towards his minor league levels he could be a monster batting behind Andrew McCutchen, but I honestly have no idea if he’s capable of doing that and will tell you that it’s equally as likely that his career ends up looking like Mark Reynolds.

4) So I want to draft James McDonald in 2013… but which James am I going to get?  The first half McDonald (2.57 ERA with a 0.97 WHIP) or the second half one (7.52 ERA and a 1.79 WHIP).

If you put James McDonald in a sealed chamber with a baseball and left him there for any significant amount of time, the psi function of the system would say that McDonald has both finally figured out how to harness his talent and that he’s given up seven home runs since you’ve closed the door.

In all seriousness, it looked like McDonald’s first half numbers were legitimate last year because he added a really sharp slider to complement his fastball and his curveball, and for his entire time in Pittsburgh it’s been pretty well-accepted that he was going to need a third pitch to be an effective starting pitcher. With absolutely no warning, it all fell apart in the second half of the season. Some people thought he was tired, but his velocity didn’t dip all that dramatically. He still made occasional good starts and on more than a few nights, things would start out well for him and then just completely fall apart as the game wore on. His control decreased dramatically (before the break he walked 31 hitters in 110 innings and after it he walked 38 hitters in 61 innings) and his homers allowed spiked through the roof (seven before the break, 14 after). Why did this happen? Certainly it could be a function of burnout, or maybe his slider wasn’t so much a good pitch but a new pitch or maybe he was tipping his pitches or maybe there is a god and he exists solely to mess with Pittsburgh Pirate fans.
Seriously, I don’t know what to expect from McDonald. He’s talented enough to be a good starting pitcher, but he’s 28 and he hasn’t done it for any significant amount of time yet.
5) I’m a young college kid with my eyes set on attending the University of Pittsburgh in the fall of 2013.  What’s most likely to adorn my dorm room wall this year?
A) A hot poster of Gaby Sanchez in a bikini (Gaby’s a girl, right?)
B) A ‘Francisco Liriano: Cy Young Award Winner’ poster
C) Havinig followed (read: stalked) Russell Martin from LA to NY and finally to PA, we get to see a reality show no one saw coming with this poster: Alyssa Milano – Amish Girls Gone Wild
D) A ‘Pittsburgh Pirates: NL Wildcard’ poster
E) A calendar called ‘Pirate Booty’ in which each month features a different backside of one of the players.

F) A page a day calendar entitled “Piratical Acts by Pittsburgh Pirates” including but not limited to:
– AJ Burnett bunts a ball off of his eye socket and wears an eyepatch.
– Barry Bonds wears this earring.
– Jason Kendall fakes his death and moves to the Barbary Coast.

– Branch Rickey steals Roberto Clemente from the Dodgers in the Rule 5 draft.
Neil Walker’s hard drive full of dubiously acquired HBO series that he’s totally gonna watch all of some day.
– Dave Littlfield drafts Danny Moskos over Matt Wieters and claiming Moskos is the spirit of Blackbeard reincarnated.
– Clint Barmes misses a game because he was playing Sid Meier’s Pirates! on his iPad for 17 straight hours.
– Garrett Jones becomes weirdly obsessed with Watchmen’s comic within a comic and determined to piece together the entire story of “Tales of the Black Freighter,” covers the entire clubhouse wall with comic book panels and frantically scribbled notes.
– In 2006, Jim Tracy installs an actual plank in the clubhouse so that he can push players off of it, rather than accepting blame himself.
– Instead of accepting a diminishing role with the Pirates, Derek Bell quits in the middle of spring training and literally sails away on a boat prompting Mark Madden to write, “Derek Bell becomes the ultimate Pirate: lives on a boat and steals money.”