Buc-ing a trend – the end of the streak
They teased us last year, but this time it’s finally going to happen. Yes, barring an almost complete collapse, the Pittsburgh Pirates will indeed break the longest streak of futility in the history of the majors. Twenty seasons of losing baseball are coming to an end in the Steel City, and it could be official as early as Labor Day.
The last Pirates team to win more than it lost was back in 1992. How long ago was that? Consider:
- Barry Bonds and Andy Van Slyke were manning the Pirate outfield
- Miguel Batista debuted for Pittsburgh (he is the only player to appear that season who is still “active”)
- there were only two divisions in each league (and nary a wildcard to be found)
- the World Series had never been played outside the USA (although that was about to change)
- ballparks weren’t named after corporations
- Nationals, Rockies, Marlins, Diamondbacks, Rays (deviled or plain)? Never heard of ‘em.
- 11 players would strike out at least 125 times (more have already done so in 2013)
More on the end of an era after the jump.
Though no team has gone as many years without a season in the black, the Pirates have far from the worst franchise record in any 20 year span. Here are those team records (since 1901), as well as various longest streaks.
|Team||Worst W-L%||20 Year Period||Longest||Season||Streaks|
|Sub .475||Sub .500||Sub .525||Sub .550|
In addition to the Pirates, this year’s Royals’ squad has a chance to stop a record run of sub .500 seasons. Not only is Kansas City riding a string of 9 sub .500 seasons, in each of those years they have established (or equaled) a new 20 year winning percentage low. Going the other way are the Toronto Blue Jays; when this season is over, they will have set a new record low 20 year winning percentage (though that low will still be the best of all 30 franchises).
So, what have the Pirates been doing differently this season? With the caveat that these results are subject to change by season’s end, here is a sampling of accomplishments so far in 2013 that were NOT achieved in any of the preceding twenty seasons.
- five qualified players with 110 OPS+ (Alvarez, Marte, Martin, McCutchen, Walker)
- four qualified position players with 2+ WAR (Marte, Martin, McCutchen, Walker)
- two outfielders with 3+ WAR (Marte, McCutchen)
- two pitchers with 115 qualifying ERA+ (A.J. Burnett, Jeff Locke)
- two qualified pitchers with H/9 under 8 (same)
- two qualified pitchers with HR/9 under 0.6 (same)
- five players with 5+ WAR fielding runs (Barmes, Marte, Martin, McCutchen, Walker)
For team defense, since Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) was first measured in 2003, this is the first Pirate team to reach 30 DRS, and with still a fifth of the season left to play. In addition, this is the 3rd straight season that Pittsburgh has had a closer with 30 saves, a first for the Pirates.
All of this points to a team in its prime. The Pirates have just one position regular over age 30 (Garrett Jones at 32), and also only one under age 25 (Starling Marte at 24). Their starting pitchers are a balance of youngsters (Gerrit Cole, Jeff Locke), players in their prime (Francisco Liriano, Charlie Morton) and older veterans (A.J. Burnett, Wandy Rodriguez).
The handling of the Pirates’ pitching this season deserves some mention. Eyebrows were raised last year when A.J. Burnett, run out of the Bronx and seemingly done, enjoyed a renaissance under the tutelage of Pirates’ pitching coach Ray Searage. This season has witnessed a similar reclamation of Francisco Liriano. Part of the Pirates’ success appears to be in not asking more of their starters than they can deliver. Pittsburgh has just two pitchers who are currently qualified for the ERA title (neither of whom has yet reached 150 IP), but there are four others with at least 12 starts, a combination also found only on the Marlins.
Depending how you look at it, the Pirates have a fresh staff heading into the pennant chase or their staff is suspect with no go to guys who can be relied upon to go deep into games. In fact, both statements are probably true, and point to Pittsburgh’s ace in the hole – an outstanding relief corps. The Pirates presently have 5 relievers with 50+ IP and 115+ ERA+, tops in the majors. And, that doesn’t include (yet) closer Jason Grilli, with his outstanding 154 ERA+. One reason for their success – they don’t beat themselves; of their top 12 pitchers (6 starters, 50+ IP relievers and Grilli), only one (Locke) has a BB/9 over 4, while 6 have a BB/9 of 2.2 or under. That translates into 7 of those 12 having a SO/BB ratio above 3 (min. 40 IP), tied with the Braves and Yankees for most in the majors.
Congratulations to Clint Hurdle and the Pirates for getting that monkey (more like a gorilla) off their backs.
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