CHICAGO, October 9, 2013 — The Pirates went 94-68 this year, a 15-game improvement over last year, to claim the first NL Wild Card. Unfortunately, they lost in the NLDS to their division rival Cardinals in five games, so now, it is time to say better luck next year to the Pittsburgh Pirates.
What Went Right: Just about everything went right for the Pirates as they made the playoffs for the first time since 1992. Leading the way was the likely NL MVP Andrew McCutchen. He proved that last year’s breakout was no fluke posting a .317/.404/.508 line with a 158 OPS+ while producing 8.2 WAR. McCutchen’s numbers are impressive and combined with the narrative of Cutch leading the Pirates to the playoffs, he will likely become the Pirates first MVP since Barry Bonds in 1992.
Pedro Alvarez may never hit for average as scouts thought he might when he was the number two overall pick coming out of Vanderbilt, but hitting for power has not been an issue. Alvarez tied Paul Goldschmidt for the NL lead with 36 homeruns posting a .233/.296/.472 slash line with an OPS+ of 116.
Francisco Liriano logged 163 innings with an ERA+ of 117 this year, his best since 2006. Liriano was absolutely murder on left handed hitters, allowing an opponent slash line of .131/.175/.146 to lefties.
The Pirates entered the year with the seventh ranked farm system according to Baseball America, and benefited by promoting their number one prospect, Gerrit Cole, to start on June 11. Cole logged 117.1 innings after his promotion with an ERA+ of 109, striking out 21.3% of the batters he faced and walking 6%. One of the concerns with Cole was that he didn’t strike out enough people initially, but he ended the year with a strikeout percentage above the league average. Cole’s future appears bright and there should be more pitching talent on the way like Jameson Taillon and Luis Heredia.
The Pirates bullpen was nothing short of phenomenal this year posting a 2.89 ERA, which was good for third in MLB. The Pirates had five relievers log 50 or more innings with an ERA of 2.70 or less, and Mark Melancon, Justin Wilson, Tony Watson and Vin Mazzaro all logged over 70 innings while Jason Grilli logged an injury shortened 50.
What Went Wrong: It is really nitpicking to look for things that went wrong for the Pirates, and it feels like just about everything broke right for the team and will need to continue to break right for them to do so again next year as they won 94 games with +57 run differential and had en expected win total of 89.
Jeff Locke started off the season great and even made the NL All Star team, but many of the peripherals suggested he was due for regression. The second half of the season bore out those suggestions. Locke finished the year having thrown 166.1 innings in 30 starts with an ERA+ of 100 (league average). Locke struck out 17.8% of the batters he faced, but struggled a bit with control walking 11.8% and while Locke is likely not the pitcher Pirates fans saw in the first half he is under team control for five more years and even providing league average results during that time is extremely valuable.
Wandy Rodriguez was acquired last year at the trade deadline in the Pirates playoff push and pitched at a league average rate during that time, but only made 12 starts this year before elbow and forearm problems in 2013. Rodriguez, like Locke, pitched at roughly a league average in his starts with an ERA+ of 99. The Pirates will have to decide whether or not to bring back Rodriguez in the offseason, but doing so to provide league average innings could take up a spot better used for prospects like Taillon.
What to Look for in 2014: The Pirates had a lot of things break right for them in 2013 and made the playoffs for the first time since 1992, and in the process reinvigorated the fan base in Pittsburgh. They need to not sit on their laurels in the offseason as they could see regression in their bullpen and should look to upgrade their offense in an effort to neutralize that regression.
Free Agents/Options: AJ Burnett, Wandy Rodriguez (Club Option), Clint Barmes, Jeff Karstens, Jonathan Sanchez, Brandon Inge, John Buck, Justin Morneau, Gaby Sanchez, Marlon Byrd, Kyle Farnsworth
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