Pittsburgh Pirates 2016 Season Review

PITTSBURGH, PA - SEPTEMBER 25: Andrew McCutchen #22 of the Pittsburgh Pirates in action during the game against the Washington Nationals at PNC Park on September 25, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

The 2016 season could have gone better for the Pittsburgh Pirates. After making it to the Wild Card game in two consecutive seasons, the Buccos hoped to break though that particular obstacle and make it to the NLDS. Alas, it simply wasn’t meant to be. A glut of injuries to the pitching staff certainly didn’t help matters, and every additional disadvantage feels so much worse when one already has to contend with the St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago Cubs. The Pirates held on as long as they could, but ultimately finished 25 games out of first, with a 78-83 record.

Pittsburgh Pirates 2016 Season Review

Strong Moments, but Not Enough

The Pirates did have some very good stretches during the season, and for a good while it looked as if they might challenge the Cards for second in the National League Central. They opened the first month of the season with four straight wins, and closed out April by winning six straight. May and June weren’t quite as strong, but then the calendar flipped to July.

Midsummer, things seemed to click for the Pirates. They were hitting well, and their young pitching staff seemed to be coming around. They won seven games in a row (including their last game in August), and won nine of their final 11 before the All-Star Break. Overall, they compiled a 14-10 record in July, and seemed to be trending upward.

Yet as the season began to wind down, the injuries caught up to them. A 15-13 record the next month kept them afloat for a time, but it wasn’t to last. They dropped their final three August games and first five September games, and that was that. A few more wins here and there couldn’t vault them over the Cardinals and were far from enough in the ultra-competitive NL Wild Card race. As the ship sank, the Pirates turned their eyes toward 2017.

A Down Year for Cutch and the Bats

It didn’t help matters that, despite being relatively healthy, former MVP Andrew McCutchen put up the worst statistical season of his eight-year. He set career-lows in batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage, and collected his fewest hits and doubles in as single season since his rookie year. He finished with a -0.7 offensive WAR, and a -2.6 defensive WAR. Both represent the lowest figures of his career. He had never earned a negative oWAR before this year.

McCutchen did still manage to lead the Pirates in hits and home runs, but that says more about the state of Pittsburgh’s offense than it does about Cutch’s contributions at the plate. Not a single player collected more than 90 RBI; Gregory Polanco lead the team with 86, and he was the only Pirate to even break 80.

This silver lining for the Pirates offense was the emergence of Starling Marte. In his fourth season, Marte led the team in OBP (.362), steals (47), and batting average (.311), and set career highs in each of those categories. He also finished second to McCutchen in hits. If he can get his power numbers back up (he hit just nine homers after belting 19 the year before), he’ll be a true threat in all aspects.

Injuries Derail the Pitching Staff

The 2015 season saw Gerrit Cole make 32 starts (the first time he had made over 30), and he established himself as a true ace. His sparkling 2.60 ERA and 1.44 WHIP put him in Cy Young contention. It seemed he had taken the next step.

Unfortunately, he could not continue that trend in 2016. Injuries limited him to just 21 starts, his fewest since his rookie season, and he never seemed to find his groove when he did take the mound. He pitched to a 7-10 record, with a 3.88 ERA and a 1.44 WHIP. Not terrible numbers, certainly, but not what the Pirates hoped for. He can still be the guy baseball saw in 2015, but he has to get healthy first.

The injury bug struck elsewhere, too. Promising youngsters Jameson Taillon and Tyler Glasnow both missed time with ailments of their own. As for Juan Nicasio, he wasn’t hurt so much as just not very good when converted to a starter.

Again, however, there is a silver lining. If Cole comes back healthy, and if Taillon, Glasnow, and Steven Brault all live up to the potential they flashed in 2016, Pittsburgh could have a very impressive, and very young, rotation to work with. They also managed to unearth a diamond in the rough in the form of Ivan Nova. While Nova was forgettable as a starter with the New York Yankees, he proved a reliable and effective reliever once traded to the Pirates. He’s a free agent this offseason, but Pittsburgh would be wise to retain him.

Looking Forward

All in all, the 2016 season was not what it could have been for the Pirates. Injuries certainly didn’t help, but the stars didn’t play like themselves, either. However, if this team can get right and get healthy, there’s no reason they can’t contend next season. The Cubs have a stranglehold on the division at the moment, but the Cards are fading and a Wild Card should be withing reach once again.

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  1. “He’s a free agent this offseason, but Pittsburgh would be wise to retain him.”

    You mean TRY to retain him. The cost-benefit of outbidding bigger/richer teams for FA pitching simply isn’t there… too risky, too expensive.

    FA pitching is exactly where MLB has become a two-tier league: wealthy teams can bid for/sign FA pitching & plug holes with quantifiable MLB pitching talent, poorer/smaller teams cannot. Small market teams are competitive on those rare occasions that they can develop an 80% homegrown pitching staff or get incredibly lucky w/ low-end FAs & trades… even one mild mistake in roster/payroll management (like overpaying for FA pitching that doesn’t bring ‘perfect’ results) pretty much erases playoff hopes for a small market team if they play in a competitive division…

    • I meant wise. I also meant try. While I agree that they shouldn’t get into a bidding war with a richer team, I don’t see it coming to that with Nova. This is a generally weak free agent market, but the one area it is strong in is relief pitching. There’s several top-tier arms available, and many, many other very good arms. While Nova had a good run with the Pirates, he doesn’t have a large sample size as a reliever, and there are more proven (and maybe better) options for other teams to look at. That should drive Nova’s asking price down considerably, and will make him less of a “hot commodity” than he might have otherwise been. It’s also worth noting that while poorer teams can hurt themselves by trying to outbid richer ones, they also often hurt themselves by giving up on their own free agents too easily. I believe it won’t take much for the Pirates to keep him around. I also believe they want him to stay and that he wants to stay. Given that, it would, in my estimation, be wise for them to re-sign him if they can.


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