2020 Season in Review: Pittsburgh Pirates
The 2020 season wasn’t a great one for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Pittsburgh finished in fifth place in the National League Central with a 19-41 record which was good enough for a .317 winning percentage. Among the rest of baseball, that gave the Pirates the worst record overall. Furthermore, it gives the team the first overall draft pick in next year’s MLB Draft.
More specifically, as a team the Pirates scored a total of 219 runs which put the team last among the other 29 clubs. On the other hand, they allowed opponents to score 298. Additionally, the team really struggled in one-run games. In those games, the Pirates compiled an 8-15 record. Among the rest of the NL Central, the Pirates played to the tune of a 3-17 record which was good enough for a .150 winning percentage. When they played the Chicago Cubs, they had the best results with a 4-6 record overall.
With all of that being said, let’s take a look at some of the things that went right for the Pirates this year along with might have gone wrong. After all, it was a rebuilding season and a year of transition in which Pittsburgh was under the guidance of rookie manager Derek Shelton along with first-year General Manager Ben Cherington. With a new vision in tow, it was the start of a new chapter in the Steel City despite the results on the field.
Deeper Look at the Pittsburgh Pirates Pitching Staff
From a pitching perspective, things weren’t that much better. The pitching staff combined for a 4.68 ERA over 513 innings. In that span, opposing teams hit .235 against Pirates pitchers and the staff recorded 536 strikeouts. Beyond that, the starting rotation combined for a 4.74 ERA over the 60 starts with an 8.78 K/9 rate. Switching over to the bullpen, Pirates relievers had a 4.62 ERA with 260 strikeouts.
Heading into the season, one of the bright spots on the Pirates staff was right-hander Mitch Keller. Keller was drafted by the organization in the second round of the 2014 MLB Draft. After making 11 starts during the 2019 regular season, there were high hopes for him in 2020.
At the start of August, the 24-year old was placed on the Injured List with left side discomfort. That injury sidelined him for the span of almost a month-and-a-half. Once it was announced, the Pirates knew the small chance they had of playing postseason baseball was diminished.
Despite that though, Keller made a total of five starts over the 60-game season. Over those five starts, he posted a 2.91 ERA while allowing seven earned runs and four home runs along with 16 strikeouts. He was able to limit contact from opposing hitters holding them to a .132 average. Heading into next season, the Pirates are hopeful for good health from Keller as they look to move forward in their rebuild.
Richard Rodriguez Continues His Success
Dating back to the 2018 regular season, Pirates relief pitcher Richard Rodriguez has been one of the team’s best arms. The organization originally signed him in December 2017 as a free agent. Prior to that, he spent one season at the big league level with the Baltimore Orioles.
More specifically, Rodriguez pitched to the tune of a 2.70 ERA over 24 appearances in 2020. In that span, he threw a total of 392 pitches with 65.3% of those being strikes. Furthermore, the 30-year old recorded 63 strikeouts and held left-handers to a cumulative batting average of .140.
With some uncertainty in Pittsburgh’s bullpen going into next season, there’s the potential Rodriguez could be the team’s closer. However, all of that is dependent on former Pirates closer Felipe Vazquez. Vazquez is currently on the restricted list and it’s uncertain when he could be eligible to return.
Deeper Look at the Pittsburgh Pirates Lineup
Among the rest of baseball, the Pirates had one of the worst lineups in 2020. The team compiled a .220/.284/.357 slash line over the span of 1,932 plate appearances. If you combine that together, it gave the team an OPS of .641 which was a major-league worst value in that category. From a strikeout perspective, Pittsburgh ranked in the middle-of-the-pack with 521 over that span.
Going into the season, there was a lot of potential on paper regarding some of the Pirates position players. First baseman Josh Bell was one of those individuals following a 2019 campaign that resulted in his first career All-Star nomination. Bell followed that campaign with a .226/.305/.364 batting line this season over the course of 223 plate appearances with 44 hits, three doubles, eight home runs, 22 RBI, 22 walks, and 59 strikeouts. He is another member of the team that the organization is hopeful bounces back in a big way heading into 2021.
Additionally, there was a lot of expectation for right fielder Gregory Polanco. In the midst of his age-28 season, Polanco finished the year with a career-worst .153/.214/.325 slash line over 50 games. Polanco was placed on the 10-day Injured List this year and was recovering from posterior inflammation in his left shoulder stemming from the 2019 season.
Finally, after taking baseball by storm outfielder Bryan Reynolds was poised for a strong 2020 campaign. However, he struggled significantly for a majority of it. Reynolds finished the year with a .189 batting average and 57 strikeouts over 55 games. Whether it was simply a sophomore slump or the league adjusting to him, remains to be seen. Although, the Pirates will need him to bounce back in a big way in 2021.
In contrast, here are some things that went right in the lineup.
Ke’Bryan Hayes Shines Bright
Ke’Bryan Hayes was drafted by the Pirates during the first round of the 2015 MLB Draft. As the organization’s second best prospect, there was a lot of promise for Hayes leading up to his big league debut. That debut came on September 1st of this year against the Chicago Cubs.
Hayes played in a total of 24 games after that date and hit .376/.442/.682 with 32 hits, seven doubles, two triples, five home runs, 11 RBI, nine walks, and 20 strikeouts. That was good enough for OPS+ of 202. In addition, it really helped to cement Hayes in the future plans of the Pirates.
While he was always considered a pillar to build around for the future, those numbers certainly helped his case. Besides the offense, Hayes shined in the field with his glove as well. That alone will help him to be the team’s third baseman of the future and a member of the next great Pirates championship-caliber team.
Colin Moran Puts Together a Successful 2020 Campaign
Third base must have been the special position for the Pittsburgh Pirates this year. Besides Hayes, Colin Moran also had an impactful season at the plate. He led the team with a .247 batting average, ten home runs, 23 RBI, and a .325 on-base percentage. While his talent level isn’t nearly as high as Hayes, the Pirates are going to have a decision to make regarding the future.
The good news is that Moran has experience playing over at first base as well. Going into 2021, there’s a chance he could see time over there although Josh Bell has that spot locked down. Therefore, Moran might be viewed more as a utility guy. Regardless, he would be a nice asset to have off the bench for Pittsburgh if he performs at this level once again.
In the end, the 2020 season was the start of a new era of Pittsburgh Pirates baseball. While it ended in a disappointing fashion, the team now has the opportunity to continue to build a strong future with the number one overall pick. Granted, that doesn’t guarantee anything for any major league team, but it’s a step in the right direction.
One thing the Pirates can takeaway from the 2020 season is an idea of which players they want to be part of their future core. The aforementioned players all have a very good chance of being a part of that plan. Now, only time will tell how the team continues to navigate through this new era under the guidance of new leadership on and off the field.
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