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A Return To Normalcy Will Return The Pirates To Winning Ways

If the Pirates want to make noise in 2017, Gerrit Cole (and others) have to avoid prolonged DL stints. Photo by Rebecca Droke/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

If the Pirates want to make noise in 2017, Gerrit Cole (and others) have to avoid prolonged DL stints.
Photo by Rebecca Droke/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The Pirates went from 98 wins in 2015 to 78 wins in 2016.  That’s bad.

It should have been unrealistic to expect the Pirates to replicate that magical 2015 season.  Ninety-eight wins is an incredibly high bar to set.  They weren’t “98 wins” good in 2015, just as they weren’t “78 wins” bad in 2016.  As with most things in life, the answer lies somewhere in the middle.

During the 2015 season, you could never turn off a Pirate game if they were losing, no matter the inning.  They were special.  They had that “it factor” and magic resilience.  This past season was like watching metal grind on metal.  There was no magic at all in this squad.  If they were down by 2 runs in the 8th, you could pretty safely start folding your laundry.

The Pirates found themselves caught in a maelstrom of injuries to key players and virtually every key starting player having a sub-par season by their own standards.  Plenty of e-ink has been spilled over Andrew McCutchen, including tons on this very website, but plenty of other players were either injured and/or underperforming.

Check out this list of injuries to key Pirates, in chronological order of DL stints:

Name Position DL Start DL End Duration Inj. Location Injury Type
Jared Hughes RHP 04/03/16 04/30/16 27 lat strain
Jung Ho Kang 3B 04/03/16 05/06/16 33 knee injury
Francisco Cervelli C 06/11/16 07/19/16 38 hand broken hamate bone
Gerrit Cole RHP 06/11/16 07/16/16 35 triceps strain
Chris Stewart C 07/02/16 09/02/16 62 knee discomfort
Jameson Taillon RHP 07/04/16 07/19/16 15 shoulder fatigue
Tyler Glasnow RHP 07/24/16 08/28/16 35 shoulder discomfort
Jung Ho Kang 3B 08/20/16 09/05/16 16 shoulder injury
Gerrit Cole RHP 08/25/16 09/12/16 18 elbow posterior inflammation
Gerrit Cole RHP 09/13/16 10/03/16 20 elbow inflammation
Chris Stewart C 09/13/16 10/03/16 20 knee discomfort
Josh Harrison 2B 09/26/16 10/03/16 7 groin strain

Note the 17 day overlap where both the Pirates starting catcher and main backup were on the DL.  I didn’t even include Elias Diaz on here for his elbow injury at the start of the year and knee infection at the end.  It was another lost year for him.

I also didn’t include Starling Marte‘s DL stint for the last few days of the season that seemed to be done almost out of spite by GM Neal Huntington.  Why a 78 win team would need to DL their best player (yes, Marte is now the best player) for the last 5 days during expanded rosters is beyond me.  But his back was prone to spasms that kept him out for chunks of games and hindered him in others.

If your ace is on the DL three separate occasions with various arm ailments, it’s not going to be promising.  And yes, Gerrit Cole is an ace.  We’ve gone over this before.

Francisco Cervelli was on the DL for the dreaded hamate bone surgery.  Once that bone is broken and removed, it typically saps power for around 9 months.  This resulted in the anemic triple slash line of .264/.377/.322 (99 wRC+) that was a far cry from his 2015 line of .295/.370/.401 (119 wRC+)

Gregory Polanco was hampered in the second half of the season to the point that he got platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injections during the season to his shoulder and knee.   He didn’t show up on the DL, either.

Jung-ho Kang was shown on the DL (twice) including at the start of the season, although that was when the Pirates were Team OBP and didn’t really miss him.  But his unfortunate legal issues in June appeared to weigh heavily on him for the month of July, when he posted a Belliardian wRC+ of just 39.  Only in August did he truly snap out of his funk and show why he is not only a great player (167 wRC+ in Aug, 176 wRC+ in Sept) but also a ridiculous bargain.  And just when he did re-awaken, he went back on the DL with a shoulder.

I named six players in the above paragraphs.  Those six combined for 24.8 WAR in 2015.  Those same six dudes, arguably the six most important Pirates, combined for just 13.6 WAR in 2016.  It’s not perfectly linear to compare WAR to wins, but there’s 11 of the 20 wins lost from season to season.

Maybe McCutchen and Cervelli won’t or can’t return to that 2015 level of performance, but there’s nothing holding back the other four guys who are all still on the right side of 30.  Even if the Super Six can get to 20 WAR combined in 2016 and avoid prolonged stints on the DL or training table, the Pirates should be well on their way to establishing a winning record again in 2017.

The Federal Street Crew has work to do this offseason, with some of it set to occur at or around next week’s Winter Meetings in D.C.  But that work doesn’t have to include trading McCutchen at this time.  This team needs augmentations, not transplants, to the incredibly solid core already here.  Go get two better-than-decent starting pitchers.  I’ll even allow one of them to be a Ray Searage Rehab case, I’m feeling generous.  But give this team a run until July 2017.  If they aren’t in the running, go ahead and do what you have to do.

But not now.  Not yet.  He may have been one of the five worst U.S. Presidents, but Warren G. Harding’s “A Return To Normalcy” should be the Pirates team slogan in 2017.  All they need is health and a few rebounds.

About Kevin Creagh (274 Articles)
Nerd engineer by day, nerd writer at night. Kevin is the co-founder of The Point of Pittsburgh. He is the author of Creating Christ, a sci-fi novel available on Amazon.