The Pittsburgh Pirates are 149-235 over the last three seasons. One would think that with three consecutive last-place efforts (finishing 22, 15 and 34 games back) ownership would try to spend a little bit of money in hopes of improving the roster. One would be incorrect when it comes to the Pirates.
In the race to the bottom of the payroll chart, Pittsburgh is looking to be at the bottom for the third consecutive year and in the bottom five for the fifth consecutive season. In fact, if we go back to 2004, the Pirates have only been outside the bottom five in payroll three times. Pittsburgh is a small market by baseball standards, but owner Bob Nutting has a real aversion to spending money to improve the team.
I try to be a little more understanding of ownership groups. Franchises are worth a lot of money, but that doesn’t necessarily mean liquid capital and there are a lot more expenditures than we see on the MLB payroll. This is an ownership group that does not deserve the benefit of the doubt and it looks like another long season in the Steel City. What a waste of a beautiful venue for baseball at PNC Park.
The offense (and I use the term loosely) for the Pirates looks, well, offensive. The Pirates were dead last in wRC + last season, grading 17% below league average. Their .294 wOBA was only better than the Marlins and Rangers, and that’s because they drew walks at a much higher clip. Pittsburgh’s .364 SLG was the lowest in baseball and the fifth-lowest since the 2015 season. For good measure, Pittsburgh’s pitiful showing in 2020 ranks as the second-lowest.
The sad part is that Pirates don’t even strike out that much – they just have very few hitters that make really good contact. Bryan Reynolds was easily the team’s best hitter last season with a 142 wRC + . There were a lot of whispers that Reynolds, who is starting to get more expensive in his first year of arbitration, would be on the move, but he hasn’t been traded yet. Reynolds was the only player with at least 150 plate appearances to slug over .450 and the only .300 hitter on the team after Adam Frazier was traded to San Diego. He’s a really good player trapped on a terrible team, though maybe not for long. Reynolds was the subject of trade rumors at the end of March, and he and the team were $650,000 apart in his arbitration filing.
It would be nice if Ke’Bryan Hayes would figure it out offensively and help. Hayes played 24 games during the 2020 season and posted monster numbers with a .376/.442/.682 slash in 95 plate appearances, but battled injuries last season and limped to a .257/.316/.373 mark. He’s a terrific defender at the hot corner, but the bat needs to show something as we go forward. He never really showed much power in the minors, but he made a lot of contact.
The Pirates acquired Yoshi Tsutsugo last year and he posted a strong 134 wRC + in 43 games with regular playing time. Maybe he’ll end up being a bright spot for the team with the chance to play every day in a low-stress environment. Maybe Dan Vogelbach will do the same. He’s a league average sort of bat, but he walks a lot and has some good power in a platoon capacity against righties. Ben Gamel is also a decent platoon bat against righties coming off of his best offensive season since 2018.