2019 Pittsburgh Pirates
2019 Pittsburgh Pirates / Franchise: Pittsburgh Pirates / BR Team Page
History, Comments, Contributions
The 2019 Pittsburgh Pirates were projected to finish around .500, like their predecessors from 2017 and 2018. The team had made some minor changes since the previous season. Most of the starting pitchers (Chris Archer, Jameson Taillon, Trevor Williams and Joe Musgrove) returned, with off-season acquisition Jordan Lyles replacing Iván Nova (whom the team had parted ways with) and the bullpen primarily returning as well. Catchers Francisco Cervelli and Elías Díaz were both back after solid 2018 campaigns, but injuries were a concern for both. The team was hoping for a bounceback from 1B Josh Bell, who had a disappointing sophomore season. At 2B, Adam Frazier had won the job from Josh Harrison late in 2018 and the team did not bring Harrison back. They also did not bring back Jordy Mercer at SS, instead trusting to off-season acquisition Erik Gonzalez and prospect Kevin Newman. At third base, Jung-ho Kang was back for the first time in regular duty in three years and won the job from Colin Moran, who had a good rookie 2018 on offense but struggled with the glove; Kang had several big hits in spring training. Key outfielders Starling Marte, Corey Dickerson and Gregory Polanco were all back, with Polanco starting the year injured.
Injuries continued to plague the team over the first month but the pitching carried them as they were .500 (14-14) through May 1. At one point, the team had all three starting outfielders on the injured list (Marte, Dickerson, Polanco) as well as backup Lonnie Chisenhall as well as both shortstops (Newman, Gonzalez) while Cervelli, Archer and Díaz all battled injuries as well. As a result, the team rushed prospects Jason Martin, Bryan Reynolds and Cole Tucker to the majors, while free agent signee Melky Cabrera (expected to be a back-up) was pressed into regular service. The offense had a very bad month, with 97 runs in their first 28 games, second-worst in the NL. Bell was a bright spot (.284/.364/.588, 151 OPS+, 9 2B, 6 HR, 17 RBI), looking to be rebounding nicely, and Cabrera was hitting .341/.370/.500 (132 OPS+) while Reynolds began his MLB career with a 9-game hitting streak (12 for 29, 6 2B, HR). More typical was the hitting of Cervelli (.175/.250/.238, 33 OPS+), Kang (.160/.222/.360, 4 HR to 5 1B, 54 OPS+), Gonzalez (.216/.298/.294, 61 OPS+), Marte (.213/.250/.413, 74 OPS+) or JB Shuck (.196/.327/.239, 57 OPS+), another player forced into action by injuries to the outfield. Kang was at least fielding well, unlike the other infielders as Gonzalez, Newman (3 errors in one inning) and company were struggling with the gloves. Again, the pitching was the highlight, though the bullpen was on-and-off, having blown some leads. Musgrove (1-2, 1.54) had a 267 ERA+, Lyles (2-1, 2.42) 171, Williams (1-1, 3.38) 122, Taillon (2-3, 4.10) 101 and Archer (1-2, 4.33) 96 as a strong starting corps. The relievers were led by closer Felipe Vázquez (1-0, 8 Sv, 0.66, 23 K in 13 2/3 IP) and free agent reclamation project and former staff ace Francisco Liriano (1-0, 0 R in 10 2/3 IP), 14 K). Nick Burdi had struck out 17 in 8 2/3 IP before being sidelined by injury. The staff ERA of 3.49 was 2nd in the NL.
The team was still around .500 (28-29) through June 1 despite a terrible 309-233 run differential. The offense had picked up in June with Polanco and Newman healthy and contributing; Bell set a franchise record for total bases in a month, breaking a long-standing mark of Ralph Kiner's and tying Paul Waner's even older record for extra-base hits in a month, though the team was still 12th in the NL in runs due to their poor April. On the other hand, the pitching imploded with injuries to Taillon, Archer and Williams forcing the team to try spot starters Nick Kingham and Steven Brault, neither of whom pitched up to their past level. For the first time(s), the franchise tried an opener; it worked the first time but not the next two. Another prospect was rushed up earlier than anticipated in Mitch Keller, but he had a rough first outing and was sent back down. Bell (.343/.405/.703, 20 2B, 18 HR, 52 RBI) was looking like a serious MVP candidate while Reynolds (.345/.402/.569), Cabrera (.327/.364/.449) and Newman (.341/.398/.471) were all exceeding expectations. Lyles (5-2, 3.09), Williams (2-1, 3.33) and Taillon (2-3, 4.10) had done well prior to their injuries but the healthy starting pitchers were all struggling, with Musgrove (3-6, 4.57, 94 ERA+) the best. In the bullpen, Vázquez (1-0, 14 Sv, 2.16) and Liriano (1-0, 1.33) continued to shine despite Vázquez having just blown a save on June 1. The team had now allowed the most runs in the NL thanks to the wretched month on the mound, a far cry from April.
On July 1st, the Pirates had a memorable game to begin the month as they pounded the Chicago Cubs for 23 hits and 18 runs in an 18-5 win. Bell led the way with three homers and 7 RBIs, and both Frazier and Moran had five-hit games, with Frazier also tying the major league mark with 4 doubles, something only Waner had ever accomplished for the Bucs. They had a rough start to June but had done well later in the month, becoming the first visiting team to take a series at Minute Maid Park and were 40-43 after that July 1st pounding. Their run differential had narrowed (437 RA-394 R). Bell (.308/.381/.654, 29 2B, 25 HR, 77 RBI, 165 OPS+) kept on rolling and Reynolds (.351/.415/.541, 150 OPS+) nearly broke the team record for hitting streak by a rookie, a mark Newman (.327/.372/.482, 123 OPS+ did break. Moran was hitting .286/.331/.479 with 10 HR (110 OPS+) as well and Dickerson was doing well since his return from injury as the outfield was getting awfully crowded (Marte, Reynolds, Dickerson, Polanco, Cabrera). Brault was stabilizing one rotation spot while Williams was back, as the pitching was recovering from the injuries. Vázquez (2-0, 19 Sv, 1.80 ERA, 245 ERA+), Liriano (2-1, 2.70, 163 ERA+) and Kyle Crick (3-4, 2.79, 158 ERA+) were turning in fine relief work.
The team started July well and were only 2 1/2 games back at the All-Star break. After the break, though, the wheels fell off and the team dropped 16 of the next 19. They traded Lyles (who had been struggling big-time) and Dickerson (who had been doing well in the crowded outfield but was nearing the end of his contrast) by the trading deadline, getting little in return. The offense was down to 10th (504 R) despite leading the league in average. While Bell slumped after the All-Star break, he was still hitting well (.283/.364/.586, 34 2B, 27 HR, 88 RBI, 144 OPS+) and they were also getting good contributions from IF José Osuna (.292/.337/.607, 7 HR in 89 AB), Dickerson pre-trade (.315/.373/.551, 18 2B in 127 AB), Reynolds (.324/.396/.503), Marte (.283/.326/.495, 74 R, 18 HR, 14 SB) and Newman (.312/.352/.430, 105 OPS+). Other than Vázquez (who was being discussed as going to the Dodgers at the trade deadline, but who remained with Pittsburgh) and Richard Rodriguez, the team was not getting very good pitching, their runs allowed up to 597, 2nd-highest in the NL. Brault had been injured, reducing their starting depth even further while Archer continued to struggle.
Their woes continued into August (starting off 4-12), though a decent finish to the month (8-4) put them at 12-16 for the month. Bell broke out of his slump (.277/.364/.578, 142 OPS+, 37 2B, 35 HR, 109 RBI at month's end), Reynolds (.332/.400/.530, 32 2B) was fighting to become the first NL rookie to win a batting title and Marte was hitting .296/.341/.507 with 23 homers and 25 steals. The pitching remained a problem, though, with no starter having an ERA under 4.00 and Archer going back on the IL with Brault coming off. They then went 10-16 in September (with injuries to Bell and Marte hollowing out the lineup further) to confirm a last-place finish with an overall record of 69-93. The biggest stories of that month were off-field: there was a clubhouse fight between closer Vazquez and fellow reliever Crick, and a few days later, on September 17th, Vazquez was arrested for soliciting a minor for sexual acts, and faced a long prison sentence if the allegations were to be proved in court. Preceding the final game of the season, a 3-1 loss to the Cincinnati Reds on September 29th, manager Clint Hurdle was fired.
Hurdle's firing was the first in a series, as in October, team President Frank Coonelly was dismissed and replaced by Travis Williams, previously a top executive with the NHL's Pittsburgh Penguins. On October 28th, General Manager Neal Huntington was in turn fired, while the search for a new manager was still ongoing.
The catching was a huge disappointment with the injuries to Cervelli and Díaz's drop-off in offensive production (.241/.296/.307, 61 OPS+), coupled with Díaz being rated the worst defensive backstop in the NL by the SABR Defensive Index. By year's end, Jacob Stallings had succeeded him as the starter, showing surprising offense (.262/.325/.382, 87 OPS+) while solid on defense. The team let Díaz go after the season. At first base, Bell finished with a solid .277/.367/.569 for a 143 OPS+ with 37 doubles, 37 homers, 74 walks, 94 runs and 116 RBI; he made the NL top 10 in doubles, home runs, RBI, OPS and slugging. He too was rated worst at his position by the SABR Defensive Index. Osuna served as a solid option off the bench (.264/.310/.456, 99 OPS+). Frazier hit a respectable .278/.336/.417 for a 99 OPS+ with 33 doubles, 7 triples and 80 runs, while being the lone Bucco regular with a positive rating on the SABR Defensive Index. Showing surprising progress with the glove, he was a Gold Glove finalist.
Newman hit .308/.353/.446 (111 OPS+) with 6 triples and 16 steals, which may have made him a Rookie of the Year candidate in a season with a thinner crowd, but not this year; defense was his problem as well as he was rated last at his position by the SABR Defensive Index. So too was 3B Moran, who showed okay offense though (.277/.322/.429, 80 RBI, 97 OPS+); Moran was named one of the worst defenders in all of baseball, the stats confirming the view from the stands.
The outfield defense was not quite as atrocious as the infield's but was not good. Reynolds was a serious Rookie of the Year candidate after hitting .314/.377/.503 with 37 doubles, 16 home runs, 83 runs and a 131 OPS+ (finishing in the top 10 in average and doubles) while Marte's second-half surge brought him to .295/.342/.503 (120 OPS+) with 23 homers, 97 runs, 82 RBI and 25 steals in 31 tries (he finished 6th in the NL in swipes). Cabrera fell from his hot start to finish at .280/.313/.399 for a 88 OPS+ while seeing the most action in right due to the injuries in the outfield. Polanco posted a disappointing 90 OPS+ (.242/.301/.425) in the 42 games he got into action. The team led the NL with a .265 average and with 315 doubles but their low power production (163 HR, next-to-last) led to their being 11th in runs. Things weren't likely to get better in 2020 on that end after they traded away Marte and signed light-hitting Jarrod Dyson to replace him in center.
The pitchers were hampered by the terrible defense, with their 5.18 ERA ranking second-worst in the league. None of the regular starters had a 100 ERA+ and only Musgrove (11-12, 4.44) was over 90 (96). Dario Agrazal was next at 87 (4-5, 4.91) and was traded away after the season, while Brault finished at 83 (4-6, 5.16), Archer at 82 (3-9, 5.19) and Williams at 79 (7-9, 5.38). Vazquez (5-1, 28 Sv, 1.65, 80 K, 43 H, 13 BB in 60 IP) led the bullpen before his off-field actions had taken him away from baseball. Other solid relief options were successful reclamation project Liriano (5-3, 3.47, 123 ERA+), Rodriguez (4-5, Sv, 3.72, 115 ERA+) and Michael Feliz (4-4, 3.99, 107 ERA+, 73 K in 56 1/3 IP).
Awards and Honors
- Adam Berry: "Pirates begin 2019 with eye on postseason: Club counting on pitching staff that took shape in second half", mlb.com, March 21, 2019.