Yesterday, the season mercifully ended for the Pittsburgh Pirates. It ended with Steve Blass being honored for 60 years of service, and Clint Hurdle being fired. Leave it to Pirate ownership to even screw that up. It was two seasons, one before the all star break, and one after the all star break. Before the All Star break, this seemed to be a gritty team, that seemed to be overcoming devastating injuries and was only 2.5 games out of first place, and only 1 game below .500 at 44-45. Even though the all star game is considered the half way point, it is slightly beyond the half way point. There were only 73 games left in the season. It was like a switch was flipped after the break. The Pirates went on a total collapse and lost 24 of the next 28 games and the season was quickly over shortly after August first. They went from this gritty battling team to a team that fought among themselves, got arrested, and simply could not play the game anymore. I feel that it was this stretch of games and the depth of the collapse that led to Clint Hurdle being fired. What the hell the happened?
First the cold hard facts. They were one of the worst pitching and fielding teams, in the National League. One of the three most important pitching stats are ERA+, FIP, and Whip. The Pirate staff ranked Last in ERA+, 11th in FIP, and next to last in Whip. Their strike out to walk ratio was 13th. They went from a little above average in 2018 to one of the worst staffs in the National League. Going into this year, this was supposed to be their strength. On defense they were even worse. Defensive Efficiency Rating, they were last. Defensive Runs Saved, they were next to last. Total Zone Defense, they were last. They went from a below average fielding team to one of the worst in the National League. They had the worst fielding 3rd baseman in all of baseball this year and maybe in this century. They had only one player who fielded his position at above average,2ond baseman Adam Frazier. Even Starling Marte was way below league average this year. This could not be offset by having only an average run producing team. Runs scored the Pirates ranked 10th in the league. Their OPS+ was 7th and OBP was 9th. However, this team was able to stay in the race for 89 games. Let’s move on to some subjective things and things that were not done that could have helped this team.
Injuries were a big part of this season for the Pirates, when in other years they have been very fortunate in keeping players healthy. But not all injuries were a bad thing. If it were not for injuries, Kevin Newman and Brian Reynolds would not have had the opportunities to have the good years they had, with Reynolds being the WAR leader at 3.9. It was the pitching injuries, that were the most devastating, in more ways than one. Jamison Talion won’t be pitching until 2021 and he was the ace of the staff. Every member of the starting pitching rotation spent some time on the IL. When they came off the IL they still did not seem to be back to 100%. Trevor Williams and Chris Archer never seemed to regain their form once they returned from being injured. Despite the bad fielding the team collapse can be tied to the total pitching collapse. During the 28 game stretch the Pirate pitching staff gave up an average of 6.3 runs per game. The four games they won they gave up 2.5 runs per game and the 24 they lost they gave up 6.9 per game. It was just horrible and they had worse stretches than that, later in the year. Then, there was the clubhouse tensions. Even though most of the fighting that was reported was after the 4-24 collapse you had to know that this was not a happy clubhouse from the start of the season. Usually clubhouse harmony is not an essential part of winning, but I think it is more important when the teams talent level is middle of the road. I think you have to have a bit of mutual respect and loyalty on the team to get the most out of the unit. I have always felt in years past that this was the case with the Pirates. They seemed to be a close knit bunch. That was not the case this year. Management did next to nothing to help the team combat the injuries. They could have gotten pitching help that was desperately needed and some defensive help. It was like they knew this was coming and that the team was going to take the plunge. In the end it cost Clint Hurdle his job and the future is looking bleak. The pitching staff has to be almost completely rebuilt. This will cost money and this ownership has not done this in the past. As the GM likes to say they will look to improve internally. Don’t look now but your innards are pretty well diseased. Naturally they will look for a new manager. Who they choose under the current situation won’t make any difference. It’s going to take some bold moves to get this organization back to contend. Don’t hold your breath.