Pittsburgh Pirates Intro to Team
The epitome of a small market team, the Pittsburgh Pirates have been a struggling franchise on the field since 1992, when they won the third consecutive NL East titles, losing in the National League Championship Series each time. The team has failed to win a division title since, finishing as high as second just three times in consecutive seasons from 2013 to 2015, their only postseason appearances in the last 30 years.
Pittsburgh Pirates Last Season Performance
The Pirates won their opener over the Cubs and then lost their next six games, eventually evened their record at 12-12 to climb into second place, then dropped five in a row to fall into last place in the NL Central Division, where they remained the rest of the season. They ended with a record of 61-101, a distant 34 games behind the front running Milwaukee Brewers.
Only one team in the National League completed the season with a worse record and there were very few bright spots for a team that drew less than 900,000 fans to one of the most attractive stadiums in Major League Baseball. It was their third straight finish at the bottom of the NL Central and their second-lowest win total in a full season since the major leagues went to a 62 game schedule in 1962.
In a clear signal that the Pirates had thrown in the towel on the 2021 season, they traded away one of the top hitters in the National League when they dealt the second baseman, Adam Frazier, to the San Diego Padres shortly before the trade deadline on July 26th. Frazier was hitting .324 at the time and was one of the few bright spots for a team that ended up the season 12th in the league in team batting average and last in home runs, slugging percentage, and total runs scored.
The pitching staff was even worse, putting up the next to last ERA in the National League at 5.08, with the real weakness coming with the starting pitchers. The team also dealt away closer Richard Rodriguez, trading him to the Atlanta Braves at the trade deadline after he had compiled a record of 4-2 with 14 saves and an ERA of 2.82.
Pittsburgh Pirates Off-Season Changes
The Pirates were fairly active during the brief time where transactions were allowed to be made prior to the lockout and also made one change to their major league coaching staff. They gave up catcher Jacob Stallings in exchange for pitcher Zach Thompson from the Miami Marlins, giving them some much-needed help in the starting rotation.
The big problem for the team is that they had a large number of players opt for free agency, so the Pirates are looking more like a college basketball program than they are a professional sports franchise that theoretically can lock up players with four and five year contracts.
The team also fired third base coach Joey Cora, perhaps with the mindset that the action can turn the franchise around, raise attendance and propel the Pirates to their first playoff appearance since 2015. In all seriousness, the team’s payroll in 2021 was about $47 million, an amount that is very difficult to build a contending team around, and entering 2022, the payroll is estimated to be $39 million with two players, relief pitcher Chris Stratton and center fielder Bryan Reynolds still eligible for arbitration.
It’s likely, especially with the decrease in payroll, that the Pirates will make more moves following the lockout. However, despite receiving almost $120 million annually from baseball’s revenue-sharing agreements, the Pirates have chosen to remain largely uncompetitive, so it’s possible that owner Bob Nutting will just continue to pocket the money instead.
Pittsburgh Pirates Key Additions
Zach Thompson made his major league debut with the Marlins in 2021 at the age of 27. The 6’7” right-hander went 3-7 in 26 games, with 14 of them where he was the starting pitcher. He had an ERA of 3.24 with 66 strikeouts in 75.0 innings pitched with 28 walks.
Although he wasn’t a true addiction, the Pirates signed the first baseman Yoshitoma Tsutsugo to a one-year, $4 million contract after he became a free agent. Tsutsugo appeared in 43 games for the Pirates in 2021 and the 29-year-old hit .268 with eight home runs and 25 RBI.
The Pirates also snagged free agent catcher Roberto Perez, who played for the Cleveland Guardians in 2021, signing the 33-year-old to a one-year deal worth $5 million. He played in 44 games last year with a batting average of .149 and hit seven home runs with 17 RBI.
The third free agent the Pirates picked up prior to the lockout was 33-year-old pitcher Jose Quintana, who went 0-3 with the Los Angeles Angels and the San Francisco Giants, sporting an ERA of 6.43 with 85 strikeouts in 63.0 innings of work. He started 10 games and made 14 relief appearances for the Angels and the Giants used him five times out of the bullpen.
In a couple of other less important moves from the waiver wire, the Pirates claimed outfielder Greg Allen from the New York Yankees and relief pitcher Eric Hanhold from the Baltimore Orioles. Each one saw limited action in 2021, appearing in 15 and 10 games respectively for their former clubs.
Pittsburgh Pirates Key Subtractions
The most impactful losses occurred just before the trade deadline in 2021, but the departures continued following the end of the season, some of which might be difficult to fully replace.
First baseman Colin Moran played in 99 games last year for the Pirates, with the 28 year old hitting .258 and smacking 10 home runs while driving in 50 runs. He opted for free agency and at the time of the lockdown remained unsigned by a new team.
The Pirates received a solid pitching prospect in return, but Stallings had good offensive numbers for a catcher in 2021, hitting .246 with eight home runs and 52 RBI. The acquisition of Roberto Perez will give them some depth at the position, but Stallings’ numbers will be tough to replace.
Part-time starting pitcher Chad Kuhl another 28 year old, went 5-7, had an ERA of 4.82 with 75 strikeouts in 80.1 innings pitched in 2021. He is an unsigned free agent after making just over $2.1 million with the Pirates last year.
Thirty year old Chasen Shreve had one of the best ERA’s on the Pirates’ pitching staff last year at 3.20 in 56.0 innings during 57 appearances on the mound. He struck out 45 batters, but his Achilles heel was walking 28 hitters for an average of one every two innings.
The Pirates also had three other part-time starting pitchers seek free agency, but they only combined for a record of 1-14 and a collective ERA of over 6.50. All of them remain without contracts.
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Pittsburgh Pirates Head Coach Analysis
Derek Shelton took over as the manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates prior to the Covid-19 ravaged 2020 season, succeeding Clint Hurdle, who had been at the helm for the nine prior seasons. Hurdle took over a team that had won only 57 games in 2010 and by 2013 had the team in the National League Division Series, eventually leading the Pirates to four winning records and two more playoff appearances.
Either Hurdle tired of trying to get wins out of a franchise unwilling to spend on talent or he just wore out his welcome, but either way Shelton was left with little to work with in attempting to guide the team through a rebuilding effort. So far, two seasons into his tenure, Shelton has a record of 80-142 for a winning rate of .360.
The 51 year old had a brief, two year minor league career in 1992 and 1993 where he hit .341 before he was forced to retire due to an elbow injury. Shelton became a coach in the Yankees’ organization and ultimately became a minor league manager for the franchise, winning league titles in the final two of three seasons in the role from 2000-2002.
He spent the next two years as a minor league hitting coordinator in the Cleveland Indians organization before beginning his major league coaching career with his promotion to hitting coach for the parent club in 2005, where he stayed until 2009. Shelton had the same position for the Tampa Bay Rays from 2010 to 2016, then spent 2017 with the Toronto Blue Jays and the following two seasons as the bench coach for the Minnesota Twins.
Until the Pirates’ organization decides to invest more money in attracting quality players, Shelton will have a difficult time leading the team back to the postseason. The over 40-year track record of the franchise that hasn’t been to a World Series since 1979 reaches far beyond the efforts of the manager.
Pittsburgh Pirates Injured Players at the beginning of the Season
Other than a couple of prospects, none of the players still on the roster who made contributions in 2021 or expected to help the Pirates in 2022 have any lingering injuries that are likely to have an impact on their availability for opening day. Obviously, players can sustain injuries during spring training but that won’t occur until the end of the lockout.
Relief pitcher Duane Underwood suffered a shoulder injury on September 5th and missed the rest of the season, but the latest reports indicate that the 27-year-old will be ready for the season. He had a record of 2-3 and an ERA of 4.33 in 43 appearances with 65 strikeouts in 72.2 innings before getting shut down due to the injury.
Twenty-eight-year-old starting pitcher Dillon Peters missed the last week of the season after suffering a back strain on September 24th. Although he was added to the injured list, Peters had resumed pitching by the end of September and is expected to be at full strength when the season begins. He made six starts in 2021 with a record of 1-2 and a promising ERA of 3.71.
A pair of other pitchers, Luis Oviedo and Miguel Yajure didn’t perform well in 2021 with neither one of them having an ERA of less than 8.00. They’ll both be ready for the season if they perform well enough in spring training to deserve a spot on the roster of opening day.
Pittsburgh Pirates Prediction for 2022 Season
With the loss of talent over the second half of 2021 and into the offseason, it’s difficult to be optimistic about the prospects for the Pirates in the upcoming season. After gutting the lineup of the major contributors for what can only be described as an anemic offense, the Pirates are left with Bryan Reynolds as their only potent offensive threat.
The moves the front office made prior to the lockout won’t inspire confidence among the few Pirates’ fans that remain, with the organization still unwilling to part with some of those millions of dollars that the franchisee receives. They don’t seem to be willing to change the model, despite their difficulty in attracting fans to PNC Park, which is really a great place to watch baseball.
Getting Zach Thomspon was a good move for the beleaguered pitching staff, but the Pirates had to give up Stallings, who provided solid offense on a team short of productivity. They also acquired a couple of other young players in the trade, but neither one has advanced beyond Double-A ball and isn’t expected to be key contributors at the major league level in 2022.
It doesn’t help the Pirates that the NL Central is actually quite deep heading into 2022, with an improved Cubs team, the always competitive Cardinals, the defending division champion Brewers still a threat and the Reds, who are also in a rebuilding mode, coming off an 83 win season. With the rest of the division so competitive, even an improved Pirate team will have difficulty showing much movement in their wins and losses, much less their position in the NL Central.
Overall, the outlook for the Pirates in 2022 MLB odds, is grim at best and atrocious at worst. Maybe Thompson can provide solid starting pitching and the team can find some hidden gems in the minor leagues, but if they don’t spend some money and bring in a proven starting pitcher, a closer and another bat or two, it will be another last place finish in the National League Central for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Check out their MLB lines.