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.
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.