Mercifully, the Pittsburgh Pirate 2020 season came to an end. The Pirates announcing team tried to put a positive spin on things, by mentioning the starting pitching over the last 2 weeks, players that would have bounce back years and some of the bullpen work. The bottom line is this, 19 and 41 is pretty pathetic, no matter how you spin it. So let’s take a look at these Pirates realistically, without any concern about how we can talk fans into buying tickets. The new management team looked at this 60 game schedule as spring training II. They would deny this, but the facts speak for themselves. They moved players around, and had a different batting order for every game. Some would point to injuries as the reason, but it can not even begin to explain the moves. Taking a gold glove finalist off second base. Putting a guy that never played outfield in the outfield. Putting players in different spots in the batting order almost everyday. Besides, most of the injuries happened to the pitching staff. I am not even being critical , because this was a team, that was never going to do well, anyway. Just come out and admit it. We are just going to continue player evaluation during this 60 game season and not even try, or worry, about winning games. Who knows, this may have been the best thing to do. We did learn a lot this year, about some of the players, and well most of it was bad, it was not all bad. Let’s look at each part of this Pirate team, and get an idea on what the future might bring.
The offense was by far the worst part of this team. In what I call the big three in offense evaluation, OPS+, OBP, and runs, the Pirates were dead last in all of major league baseball. Since the DH was universal this year, you could compare all 30 Major League teams fairly. Fairly, the Pirates finished 30th, 30th, and 30th. This was a team effort where nobody hit except for Ke’Bryan Hayes and Colin Moran. The cause for greatest concern was the poor showing of Josh Bell and Bryan Reynolds. It will be essential for them to right the ship next year if the Pirates are going to be competitive. With a couple of exceptions, the rest of players should have no effect on the Pirate’s future, as they will be gone.
The pitching, with a great statistical stretch, in the final two weeks of the season faired a little better. ERA+ which compares pitching staffs by taking in ballpark factors, the Pirates were 17th. Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP), which compares how well a staff does with things they can control, namely strike outs, walks, and home runs, the Pirates finished 21st. Walks Hits per inning (WHIP), the Pirates finished 18th. In all the important phases of pitching the Pirates were very close to the league average. The one thing the staff got was a lot of good experience. Derek Shelton let pitchers in longer than they should have been, to see if they could succeed or fail. This meant losing some games, the Pirates should have won, but it gave pitchers an idea of what they could do in adverse situations. The best result was with Richard Rodriguez. He blew a save early in the season, and had some other end of game meltdowns, but showed his resilience, and developed into a solid end of game reliever. Before we get too enthralled with the Pirate pitching, it is always easier to perform when the games are meaningless. Next year it would be nice to see Chris Archer pitch and Jameson Taillon come back from surgery. Regardless of this happening, the Pirate pitching staff gained a lot of invaluable experience this year, and it should pay off, next year.
The big surprise was the Pirates developed into a slightly better than average fielding team. I like the Defense Efficiency Rating, used by Baseball Reference, and the Pirates finished 15th in the league with a .697, .004 above the league average. It may have been even better, if Adam Frazier would have been allowed to play 2ond base for the entire season. The two defensive gems the Pirates have, is Ke’Bryan Hayes at 3rd, and Jacob Stallings behind the plate. They were such big upgrades at their positions, that it was probably enough to push the Pirates to be an average defensive team. The last five years the Pirates have finished between 25th and 30th when it comes to defensive efficiency. Erik Gonzalez, despite having absolutely no plate discipline, is a solid defensive shortstop which helped their overall defensive rating.
So where do the Pirates go from here except up. First, let’s look at who won’t be here, when the Pirates become competitive. In other words, as long as these players are still on the 26 man roster, the Pirates are doomed to be mired in the basement of the Central Division. This list includes, Cole Tucker, Kevin Neuman, Gregory Polanco, Jose Osuna, J. T. Riddle, and John Ryan Murphy. These players, for various and many reasons, will not be apart of any Pirate resurgence. I would have said the same thing about Colin Moran. If the DH remains in the National League, then he will fit the role quite nicely. This year Moran had an OPS+ of 115 with 100 being the league average. When Joe Musgrove is considered the fifth starter the Pirates will be contenders. The Pirates are going to have a hard time acquiring prospects. Who would they trade. Better yet, are there any teams that would want their players. I do not think it is time to give up on Josh Bell or Bryan Reynolds. What would the return be, after a very down 60 games. There would have to be a team with many bats, and a gaping hole at shortstop for Erik Gonzalez to have any value. The Pirates have one of the lowest payrolls in baseball. The new management team keeps saying, they are not going to do a complete teardown. Could this be the first off season, that the Pirates are going to participate in the free agent market. They seem to be in this kind of no man’s land. They do not have a lot of prospects. They are not an old team, where they have a lot of veterans to unload for prospects. I really can’t believe, that Pirates will be active in the free agent market. But if they are going to strictly build through the draft and prospects, then this could be a long losing haul, until near the end of this decade. I suppose we could hope for more 60 game seasons, so at least it will go by quickly.