It wasn’t that long ago that the Pittsburgh Pirates were hovering around 100 wins per season. Between 2013-2015 they had three consecutive seasons over .500 and made the playoffs in three straight seasons. The last time the Pirates had three consecutive winning seasons was between 1990-92. In addition, it was also the last three times they made the playoffs.
The Pirates climb back to relevance coincided with the emergence of 2009 National League Rookie of the Year, Andrew McCutchen. Starting his rookie year, McCutchen instantly became the face of the franchise. Eventually, he helped lead them to the playoffs for three straight seasons. In 2015, the Pirates won 98, something they have done just two other times (1979, 1991) since 1908. McCutchen was right in the middle of the resurgence, averaging 667 plate appearances in every season between 2010 and 2017. In that time he averaged 155 games played and 92 runs scored. In addition, he added an average of 167 hits a season.
However, starting in 2016, McCutchen and the Pirates performance decreased. McCutchen had a career-worst .256 batting average. In addition, his on-base percentage dipped below .400 for the first time since 2011. Not coincidently, the Pirates success as a team suffered as well. A year after they won 98 games, they won just 78 and found themselves outside of the playoff picture. McCutchen was slightly better in 2017, however still sported an OBP under .400. Once again, the Pirates win total dipped. Dropping, this time, to 75. Not surprisingly, they missed the playoffs for the second straight season.
The Offseason Pirates Fans Choose to Ignore
Following a second straight playoff-less season, the Pirates and General Manager Neil Huntington decided to make drastic changes. The team decided it needed a makeover and in order to do so, they waved goodbye to McCutchen. In mid-January, the Pirates and Giants reached an agreement where the McCutchen would head to San Francisco in exchange for pitcher Kyle Crick and minor league outfielder, Bryon Reynolds.
“Watching Andrew patrol center field with grace, fly around the bases, drive the ball all around the ballpark, celebrate with his teammates or interact with his family, friends or fans has created lifelong memories,” Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said after the trade in January.
The Pirates scored the third fewest runs in the Majors last season and losing McCutchen won’t help. However, an opportunistic acquisition of Corey Dickerson from the Rays should help offset some of the lost production with the trade of McCutchen. With that said, a lineup featuring Dickerson isn’t something to be afraid of. The Pirates will have to rely heavily on some of the young guys with little to no major league experience.
In addition, just five days prior to the McCutchen move, the Pirates shipped off Ace, Gerrit Cole, to the defending World Series champion Astros. In his five seasons with the Pirates, Cole went 59-42 with a 3.50 ERA. He struck out 734 batters in 782.1 innings. He now calls Houston his home, leaving his former team void of marquee talent.
|5 Yr||5 Yr||59||42||.584||3.50||127||127||1||782.1||749||327||304||67||203||734|
What Needs to Go Right For the Pirates
First and foremost, a productive season from Starling Marte would go a long way in how this Pirates season shapes up. Prior to being busted for PED use, Marte was a top hitter in the game. Upon return from suspension, Marte’s production dipped considerably. The obvious connection can be made by anyone, however, the Pirates are hoping that Marte can reinvent himself and become a better player than he was last year.
As mentioned before, Dickerson is a really good acquisition for this team. Yes, he strikes out a lot. However, he brings a decent amount of power and veteran leadership to a team that will truly need it. Second baseman, Josh Harrison, showed a surprising amount of power last season, slugging a career-high, 16 home runs. Harrison hit 13 home runs back in 2013, however, he hit just 15 home runs in his five other seasons. The Pirates hope that he continues to show some pop from the middle infield position. A repeat performance of his All-Star campaign in 2017 should suffice.
- 2B Josh Harrison
- LF Corey Dickerson
- CF Starling Marte
- 1B Josh Bell
- RF Gregory Polanco
- 3B Colin Moran
- C Francisco Cervelli
- SS Jordy Mercer
Gregory Polanco is an interesting case for the Pirates as well. After slugging 22 home runs and driving in 86 runs in 144 games in 2016, Polanco hit just 11 home runs and drove in only 35 runs. In addition, he stole the fewest amount of bases of his young career with just eight. Compared to 17 and 27 the past two seasons.
As for the rotation, losing Cole, like McCutchen will hurt. However, not all is lost. The intriguing case of Tyler Glasnow should give Pirates fans hope. A former top prospect hasn’t quite reached his full potential. He struggled with his command in the majors. With that said, the talent is there and the Pirates hope he harnesses it this year. Likely, that will come by virtue of a role in the bullpen.
Projected Starting Rotation
- RHP Jameson Taillon
- RHP Ivan Nova
- RHP Chad Kuhl
- RHP Trevor Williams
- RHP Joe Musgrove
Another player the Pirates are hoping takes a big leap forward is pitcher Jameson Taillon. Taillon, while undergoing treatment for testicular treatment, struck out 125 batters over 133.2 innings. He finished the season 8-7 with a 4.44 ERA. Now, a year removed from the challenging season off the field, the Pirates hope Taillon regains much of what made him one of their top prospects.
So you’re saying there’s a chance?
No. Not really. Not for this season at least. That is not to say there isn’t a lot to watch for this year. The Pirates have a bevy of young talent both on the Major League roster and in the farm system. As we have seen from the Astros, they have built a team that looks to be a contender for several years, through the draft and player development. The best Pirates fans can hope for this season is to see the steady progression of some of their young talent. And perhaps a trade or two of their veterans at the deadline to bring in even more young talent.
70-92 (Last in the NL Central)