Sep 13, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates manager Clint Hurdle (L) argues a call with first base umpire Alan Porter (64) after being ejected during the sixth inning at Citizens Bank Park. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
The 2016 season did not go according to plan for the Pittsburgh Pirates. However, there were still some bright spots.
The Pittsburgh Pirates 2016 season had many ups and downs. But a couple of the ”downs” were the main reasons they failed to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2012.
Andrew McCutchen had the worst year of his career posting career lows in on-base percentage (.336), slugging percentage (.430), wOBA (.329), wRC+ (106), and WAR (0.7). He also continued to regress defensively and a move to right field looks likely next season. Although he never admitted it, part of his down season could have been because of a thumb issue he suffered earlier in the season that lingered for several months. But McCutchen finally starting hitting the final two months of the season posting a .282/.383/.854 line so hopefully he is fully healthy now and that carries over to the 2017 season now that it looks like he will be staying in Pittsburgh.
Gerritt Cole’s down year was highlighted by 2 trips to the DL from elbow problems. Statistically, Cole had a solid season with a 3.33 FIP and 2.5 WAR in only 116 innings pitched, but he just didn’t look like the same pitcher he did in 2015. He struggled to put hitters away, causing his pitch counts to go up, and he failed to go deep into games, pitching 7 innings or more only three times. He posted career lows and highs in K/9 (7.6), and BB/9 (2.8). A positive sign was his fastball velocity still averaged over 95 MPH after he returned from the first injury so hopefully the second DL stint was just precautionary since it was so late in the season. GM Neal Huntington has said Cole is having a normal off season this winter and I expect we will be seeing him pitch like an ace once again.
Despite McCutchen and Cole’s down years, the Pirates still had encouraging seasons from players that are under contract for the next several years and here are the top 5 players from the 2016 season.
Aug 22, 2016; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Jameson Taillon (50) delivers a pitch against the Houston Astros during the first inning at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
This could have been Ivan Nova but I decided to roll with Jamo here. The most important thing is he proved he was healthy. Not only did he prove he was healthy, he proved that he could pitch effectively in the major leagues.
During his rehab from Tommy John Surgery, Taillon was able to work on his mechanics and delivery and basically become a new pitcher which he was able to do. Taillon dominated Triple-A hitters in his 10 starts at the level in 2016. He posted a 2.04 ERA and an amazing 0.88 BB/9 at Triple-A in 2016.
On June 8, Taillon made his Major League debut and picked up right where he left off at with the Triple-A Indianapolis Indians. His new delivery allowed him to keep his fastball down in the zone and generate ground balls and that’s exactly what he was able to do in the majors (52.4 percent ground ball rate). He continued to keep guys off the bases after his callup, only walking 1.47 BB/9. Taillon would finish his rookie season with a 3.38 ERA and a 3.71 FIP. So, in conclusion, it was a successful rookie season for Taillon and I’m expecting big things from him in 2017.
Sep 17, 2016; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates second baseman Sean Rodriguez rounds the bases after hitting a solo home run against the Cincinnati Reds during the fourth inning at Great American Ball Park. Mandatory Credit: David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports
When the Pittsburgh Pirates re-signed Sean Rod last winter I was skeptical of it because he wasn’t a good player in 2015. Although he played his usual solid defense, he didn’t hit for the power he did in 2014 with Tampa Bay and he got far too many at bats against right-handed pitching.
But the Sean Rod we saw in 2016 looked like a different player offensively. He posted a career high walk rate (9.6 percent). He also posted a career high .510 slugging perentage, as well as a career high ISO of .240. Also, as usual, he continued playing good defense at just about every position on the field besides pitcher and catcher.
Due to his improved plate discipline and power numbers I would have liked to see the Bucs bring Sean Rod back in 2017. But the Atlanta Braves gave him a well deserved 2-year 11.5 million dollar deal where he’ll get a chance to earn more playing time than he would have with the Pirates.
Gregory Polanco got off to a great start in 2016. The first three months of the season he was able to put up a .297/.377/.885 slash line and it looked like he was having the breakout season many people were expecting him to have.
However, Polanco started to fade after those three months. He was still hitting for power (.522 slugging percentage) but his on-base percentage didn’t reach .300 for any one month the rest of the season. Towards the end of the season Polanco said he had been playing through a shoulder injury.
One positive from Polanco’s season was he was able to improve against left-handed pitching. In 2015 Polanco really struggled against lefties (.190/.250/.528) and often times found himself being platooned when they faced tough lefties. But in 2016 Polanco hit .245/.312/.781 against lefties.
The one thing Polanco was consistent with in 2016 was his power numbers. He hit a career high 22 home runs and posted a career high slugging percentage (.463). Polanco continued playing solid defense in his third full season and could be playing left field next season if Starling Marte is move to center field.
Regardless, the future for Gregory Polanco is very bright. He should only continue to improve in the coming seasons.
Kang had some legal issues in 2016 and those have overlooked the great season Kang had in 2016 so I’m not going to get into that. He got a late start to the season because of the knee injury suffered late in the 2015 season and he started it with a bang, hitting 2 home runs against the Cardinals in his season debut. Kang would end up with 21 HRs in just 103 games and finished with a better slugging % (.513), ISO (.258), and wRC+ (.133) than he did in his rookie season. Kang hit a home run every 15.14 at bats which would have been one of the tops in the league if he had enough at bats to qualify. One part of Kang’s game that fell off a bit in his second season was his defense but that was to be expected after suffering such an ugly injury. GM Neal Huntington and Manager Clint Hurdle have said Kang could see some time at shortstop in 2017. If he does then that will likely mean Kang’s knee is fully healthy which will be a great sign for the Pirates both offensively and defensively in 2017.
Sep 27, 2016; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates left fielder Starling Marte (6) looks on at the batting cage before playing the Chicago Cubs at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
1. Starling Marte
Starling Marte was the Pittsburgh Pirates best player in 2016. He had the highest WAR (4.0) on the team, won his second consecutive Gold Glove Award, and made his first career All-Star Game.
In 2016 Marte was able to post the best on-base percentage (.362), slugging percentage (.456), and OPS (.818) of his career. Marte’s home run numbers dropped a bit in 201616, hitting only 9 home runs after belting 19 in 2015. This may have been because his HR/FB ratio dropped from 18. percent in 2015 to 8.4 percent last season.
Moving forward I expect that number to be closer to his 2015 numbers. So, we should see Starling Marte hit double digit home runs again next season. And, as always, Marte continued to be one of the best, if not the best, defensive outfielders in the Majors last season. He led the league again with 17 outfield assists and posted a 7.5 UZR when playing left field. He will more than likely be the center fielder in 2017 and that great defense should definitely carry over to the position.
Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
As the 2017 season nears, the debate becomes who will be the best players on the Pittsburgh Pirates this coming season. Odds are, Jameson Taillon, Gregory Polanco, Jung Ho Kang, and Starling Marte will be among the best Pirates once again in 2017. However, who will be new to the list?
I would expect Andrew McCutchen to have a bounce back season and find himself among the team’s best players in 2017. The same goes for Gerrit Cole. Furthermore, Josh Bell should find himself on this list with a full Major League season under his belt. A healthy Francisco Cervelli is a possibility, too.
Regardless of who the five best players are for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2017, there is one thing we can all agree on. Hopefully, they will be leading the Pirates back to the postseason after missing the postseason in 2016.