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The Turf’s 30 in 30: The Pittsburgh Pirates

Everyone wrote off the Pittsburgh Pirates before the 2018 season. The only problem was that no one bothered to tell them.

PNC Park by svendknutsen is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

The Turf’s 30 in 30: The Pittsburgh Pirates


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Estimated Reading Time: 4 Minutes

2018: Record: 82 – 79

2018 Finish: 4th in the NL Central, 7th in the National League

Surprises in 2018

Front Office Response to Fan Disappointment

Pirates Owner Bob Nutting’s favorite phrase over the last few years has been: “We are building a young team that will be around for years.” And year after year, Nutting and General Manager Neil Huntington have failed to do that.

After years of attempting to keep up with the strong competition in the NL Central, the Pirates looked to be dead in the water going into the 2018 season. No one expected them to finish above 20th in the league. No one expected the Pirates to do anything but roll over last season.

And they didn’t. And that’s partly due to the will of this team and the will of the fans.

From 2016 to 2018, attendance at PNC Park has dropped. In 2016, the Pirates saw an average of 28,112 fans per game, filling about 73.3% of seats, as 2.25 million fans came to cheer on the Pirates.

In 2018, as calls for boycotts and jeers from the Pittsburgh faithful rained down upon ownership, fans voiced their dissatisfaction with their feet. Average attendance dropped by almost 10,000 to 18,786 fans a game, sometimes dipping below 10,000 a night. The Pirates dropped 10 spots to 28th in the league, and only filled 49% of the seats for the 2018 season, a 24.3% fall from 2016.

The fans were heard and the Pirates ownership began to make changes. At the deadline Huntington made deals landing Keone Kela from the Rangers and sent Austin Meadows and Tyler Glasnow to the Tampa Bay Rays for Chris Archer.

The moves didn’t net prospects, they landed solid young players under team control on the upswing of their careers. If the Pirates can keep this mentality in the next two years, they’ll be a force to be reckoned with in the coming years.

If there’s a lesson to be learned here, it’s that ownership will listen if you make your voices heard. Hate your the way your team is run? Stage a mutiny and take back the ship before it runs aground.

Jameson Taillon‌ and Trevor Williams

Initially, I was going to talk about these two separately, but then I looked at their numbers.

Jameson Taillon: 14-10, 3.20 ERA, 32 Starts, 2 Complete Games, 191 Innings, 1.178 WHIP, 179 Ks, 8.4 K/9.

Trevor Williams: 14-10, 3.11 ERA, 31 Starts, 1 Complete Game, 170.2 Innings, 1.178 WHIP, 126 Ks, 6.9 K/9.

Both Williams and Taillon were called up from the Indianapolis Indians in 2016, after stellar seasons for the Triple-A club. The 2017, would be their shard first full season in the majors, and for freshmen starters they faired as well as they could.

But in 2018, with Gerrit Cole on his way to Houston, the runway was clear for the young Pirates starters to take off.

When I said that Taillon and Williams had similar stats, it’s not just on the surface. Even at the split level, the two starters mirrored each other’s progression.

  • First Half Taillon: 6-7, 3.91 ERA, 1.217 WHIP, 8.7 K/9.
  • First Half Williams: 7-7, 4.36 ERA, 1.253 WHIP, 6.5 K/9.
  • Second Half Taillon: 7-3, 2.33 ERA, 1.129 WHIP, 8 K/9.
  • Second Half Williams: 7-3, 1.38 ERA, 1.074 WHIP, 6.9 K/9.

It’s uncanny how similar these two guys were in 2018.

Looking towards the future, if the Pirates can continue the development of these two young arms, they’ll have a solid 1-2 punch down the line. Add in Chris Archer and positive progression from Chad Kuhl, Steven Brault and Nick Kingham and the Pirates have a solid young rotation for the next few years.

Seriously. If the Pirates can stay the course, they’ll be there when the rest of the NL Central runs aground.

Disappointments in 2018

Normally this is where I’d talk about the worst things that happened this season for a team, but the reality is this: things could have been a lot worse for the Pirates in 2018.

Instead, the Pirates feel like a different team coming out of 2018.

The Front Office listened to fans for the most part and attempted to invest in the future of the ball club. The initial shock of sending Gerrit Cole away subsided thanks to the play of Colin Moran, who was a solid piece for the Pirates in 2018.

They then went out and got Chris Archer, who becomes the de facto veteran of the staff. The Pirates got younger without getting worse. That’s something that’s very difficult to do.

Things could have been a lot worse in Pittsburgh, but rather than sinking their own ship they changed the sails and headed for open waters.

Did they make the playoffs? No. Did they avoid the absolute cratering of the franchise. Yes. That’s a win in my book.

Looking Ahead to 2019

The oldest member of the Pirates starting rotation is Chris Archer.

The oldest member of their starting lineup is Francisco Cervelli, who is 32 and might just be an actual pirate.

It’s a waiting game in Pittsburgh, and they have the players and the time to do just that.

Is that a good thing? On the surface, waiting things out seems awful. It feels like you’re waving the white flag before the season has begun. For some teams, like the Marlins or the White Sox, it is. But the Pirates are a fighting team. After everyone wrote them off in 2018, they finished 7th in the NL and above .500. That’s more than 80% of the AL Central can say.

This team has youth, fight, and a rabid fan base. This team could surprise a lot of people in 2019.

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