2016 Record: 78-83
2016 Finish: 18th in MLB, 8th in NL
2016 in Review
Starling Marte is good at baseball. This is both a surprise and a “YEAH, DUH.” Marte had a great year and was rewarded for it by being elected to his first All-Star Game and winning a Gold Glove. Marte’s year was his best so far, topping his career highs in most offensive categories. Posting a .311 average and a .818 OPS, once Marte got on base he wasn’t done, managing to steal 47 bases in 2016. All of this was done in an injury shortened year. This guy is good at baseball. He’s a guy to keep around.
The Pittsburgh Pirates were the second best team in the MLB at the end of the 2015 season. The unfortunate thing for the Pirates was that second place but them in a Wild Card game with the Chicago Cubs. That game, of course, was over before it started, and Jake Arrieta threw a complete game shutout on his way to a Cy Young award later in the year.
So how does a team go from being 2 wins away from 100 wins in 2015, fall so hard in 2016? The 2016 collapse of the Pittsburgh Pirates was caused not by one thing in particular, but by a domino effect of garbage.
Let’s start with the offseason. The first mistake was made when J.A. Happ was granted Free Agency. Now, this one, I’ll let slide. Happ’s 1.82 ERA and a 7-2 record in his 11 starts with Pirates probably weren’t enough to warrant the Pirates re-signing the Lefthander…
And then there was the Jon Niese for Neil Walker trade. How bad was this trade for the Pirates? Well, Jon Niese pitched a full 1.00 above his career ERA for the Bucs, and never seemed to gain his footing. Neil Walker, on the other hand? Well, he was just what the doctor ordered for New York until he went out for the year. The weight of this trade’s impact shouldn’t be measured in Niese and Walker’s stats, but the tailspin it sent the Pirates into.
Losing Neil Walker left a hole in the Pirates lineup that isn’t easily filled. Sure Josh Harrison can play 2nd, Kang moves to 3rd and then Jordy Mercer moves to short, but none of them can hit in the #2 spot in the order. Kang is a natural born 5 hitter, a guy who can drive in your heavy hitters or set up the back end of your lineup. Mercer is the team’s 8th hitter but has better numbers as a leadoff guy. Harrison could hit from anywhere but doesn’t have the table setting attributes like Walker. So you have a hole at the top of your lineup now with no real true fits in your lineup.
The Pirates tried many different things from Gregory Polanco, Andrew McCutchen, Sean Rodriguez and Josh Harrison. All of these guys could fit the #2 hitter role, but it’s like playing whack-a-mole; you fill one hole and another opens up.
Everyone has been discussing Andrew McCutchen’s off year in 2016. What if I told you his numbers hitting from the #2 spot dragged his numbers down? Hey, guess what? Andrew McCutchen hitting in the #2 spot dragged his numbers down. Starling Marte hit .244 from the #2 spot, and Gregory Polanco hit .268, which isn’t so bad, but it’s not great, especially when you compare that to Neil Walker’s .293 in 2015.
What happened in 2016 is a direct result of the Pittsburgh Pirates overcorrecting their lineup and not understanding the value of the players they have. Even with the trade talks surrounding Andrew McCutchen, I question what’s happening with the Front Office. Andrew McCutchen is the guy who got you here, and you dance with the one who brought you. So stop trying to get rid of him in exchange for what? Prospects? similar to the prospects you gave to New York in exchange for Ivan Nova? What are we doing here? You’re trying to sell the cow to get back the milk you gave to the Yankees months ago. That’s not how this works. That’s not how any of this works.
It’s gonna be a rough road ahead for Bucs fans, and that’s because of the hole that the front office has put the team in. It’s time for a mutiny. The Pirates were the 2nd best team in the whole league last year and now they are on the wrong side of .500. Things have to change. And it starts with the Front Office. There’s a problem with player evaluation in Pittsburgh and it doesn’t look like it’s going to change anytime soon.