A quarter of the season has already passed for some teams and the Pittsburgh Pirates are on the cusp of that mark. The team has surprised fans, analysts, and many others with their competitiveness so far this season. The Pirates are 21-16 and only half a game out of first. They are solidly in the playoff race and are on track to finish the season with a winning record. Let’s take this opportunity to review the season so far.
The Big News
Obviously, the biggest news of all is that the Pirates are even competitive. While not as down as most were, even this writer thought Pittsburgh was headed to a less than stellar season. That hasn’t been the case so far. The team has struggled somewhat against non-divisional foes (11-13) but they’ve absolutely crushed the central (10-3). This is a welcome surprise after years of struggling against their divisional rivals.
Most surprisingly of all is that the Pirates have a top ten offense after last year’s poor showing. Pittsburgh is seventh in runs scored, offensive WAR, and OPS. They’ve competed by bucking this year’s hottest trend. While everyone else is hitting dingers or striking out, the Pirates are taking a more balanced approach. Currently, the Pittsburgh offense is third in strikeout percentage, tenth in HR, and seventh in batting average. With warmer weather approaching it’ll be interesting to see if the Pirates catch up in power.
Unfortunately, it hasn’t been all roses this season. Pittsburgh has already experienced one major injury. Second baseman Josh Harrison took a pitch off his hand, the same hand he injured late in 2017. He has been out since April 16 and will not be back until June. Sean Rodriguez and Adam Frazier have attempted to fill his absence but both have been stuck in ruts. Josh was doing a good job in the leadoff and is consistently a spark for this team.
Seemingly out of nowhere, reports came in that “former” third baseman Jung Ho Kang has finally acquired a work visa for the United States. He is currently in Bradenton, FL going through his own personal version of Spring Training. No one knows if he’ll be placed on the active roster or if he’ll be any good. This will be a story to keep a tab on as the season goes on. Kang was a stellar player for the Pirates and at one point seemed poised to become one of the franchise’s top players. The Pirates have seemingly moved on from him with this season’s acquisition of Colin Moran but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for Kang.
- Rookie Nick Kingham throws 6.1 perfect innings in debut.
- Jameson Taillon throws a complete game shutout and then falls apart.
- Jordy Mercer is the third-fastest player on the team?!?
- Beware the sixth inning: 8.51 ERA, opponents have an OPS of .883.
- Felipe Rivero changed his last name to Vazquez.
Grading the Trades so far….
Unless you live under a rock, you’re aware of two gigantic trades the Pittsburgh Pirates made this offseason. Let’s see how they look so far….
Gerrit Cole for Joe Musgrove, Colin Moran, Michael Feliz, and Jason Martin:
At first glance, this trade looks downright awful. Gerrit has finally blossomed into the ace everyone thought he’d be and the Pirates did not get a Chris Sale-like return. However, it’s almost universally accepted that for whatever reason Gerrit Cole could not reach his potential in Pittsburgh. While that seems like a cop out the trade has lost some of its sting thanks to the return. Even though Joe Musgrove has yet to play or make an impact due to an injury, his rehab starts have looked good and he’ll likely have an impact on the staff or bullpen. Michael Feliz has quickly set himself up as the 7th inning man and may even take the 8th from George Kontos. He has 20 strikeouts in 15 IP, a 133 ERA+, and a 0.4 WAR (Felipe Vazquez has been worth 0.5). Colin Moran (5th in team WAR with 0.5) .785 OPS, and his defense is….well it’s there. Colin gets it done, the power hasn’t really shown up but he’s getting walks and hitting for average. The last piece, Jason Martin, has a .914 OPS in AA and is so far looking like a decent piece. As this trade ages, it could be much more in favor of the Pirates than originally thought.
Andrew McCutchen for Kyle Crick and Bryan Reynolds:
Cutch is struggling but is quickly heating up (.412 in last week) as he returns to Pittsburgh today. Kyle Crick has provided some value, although he has had struggles, evidenced by his 13 K’s in 8.1 IP, four BBs and 0.1 WAR. Bryan Reynolds only played four games so who knows. The jury is still out on this one….
Daniel Hudson and cash for Corey Dickerson:
HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! There hasn’t been a trade this one-sided since Shelby Miller was traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks. Don’t worry we’ll break down Dickerson’s performance in a moment.
The MVPositional Player: Francisco Cervelli .302/.400/.552, .952 OPS, five HR, 2nd in team RBIs (22)
Cervelli is back! Another offseason removed from his hand injury and it seems that Francisco that earned a contract extension has returned. The dude is straight smashing the ball. He (and backup catcher Elias Diaz) currently lead the league in catcher WAR by a healthy margin. Whenever the Pirates need a big hit he delivers, he has a 1.202 OPS and 17 RBIs with two outs.
The MVPitcher: Trevor Williams, 4-2, 2.63 ERA, 41 IP, 29 Ks, and 1.174 WHIP
Here’s the deal, Williams has been the most consistent starter for the team and kept the Bucs in a position to win every time he takes the mound. All the other starters have had flashes of brilliance that outshined Williams but they’ve also had massive blowouts. Consistency is something all starters should strive for and so far he’s been the man.
Surprise of the season….so far: Corey Dickerson .323/.361/.534, .895 OPS, three HR, first in team RBIs (26)
How could it be anyone else? Since arriving, Corey has done it all. He’s been the team’s best hitter in almost every category and has multiple OF assists. Defense was Corey’s biggest weakness and that hasn’t been the case. Even in PNC Park’s gigantic left field, Dickerson has made two outs above average (a statcast stat used to grade outfield defense), tying him for 16th in the majors. Dickerson has been a solid, consistent starter and could easily be the team’s MVP by the end of the year. If he doesn’t go to the All-Star Game, we riot Pittsburgh.
What to Expect?
There is still a lot of season to go, but the early results are favorable for the Buccos. Pitching has been middle of the road, but the offense has been very good even with key members slumping. The bullpen issues seem to have been fixed (sidenote: keep an eye out on Richard Rodriguez, he may become extremely important), which was the biggest issue for the team in April. Now the biggest issue is that this team is streaky. They’ll go from losing six in a row to winning seven and then back to losing five. That isn’t a recipe for success or playoff contention. If Pittsburgh finds some consistency they could very well be in the hunt for the division crown. Outside of the Cincinnati Reds, the division is tough but is definitely up for grabs. Every team has flaws and the Pirates have shown their mettle so far.
Pittsburgh’s test of whether they are real or not starts here in mid-May. The San Francisco Giants are not a bad team but they are also not great and a series win would make a statement but it’s more than just this series. Ten of the next 13 games are against cellar dwellers. This is by far the easiest section of the whole schedule and the Pirates are going to need every win they can get to win the division or make the Wild Card. Playoff teams don’t lose to terrible teams. When Pittsburgh plays the St. Louis Cardinals on May 25th, everyone should know whether or not this team is for real.