This article was orignally posted by Mr. Bill Ivie on Baseball Digest until the website closed.
The Pirates ended 2010 practically on rock bottom with a 57-105 record. It was their worst season over the course of their 18 season losing streak. Management made a couple promising moves over the offseason, then entered 2011 hoping to rebound from an atrocious season. They started unusually strong and ended July not only above .500, but also in contention to claim the NL Central division. Optimism would be replaced by excitement when they acquired Derrek Lee and Ryan Ludwick before the trade deadline. Excitement quickly turned into the same despair which Pirates fans have experienced over the last two decades as they suffered from multiple injuries and fell to end the season 72-90. Although the Buccos clinched their 19th consecutive losing season, we saw a ray of hope which caused many fans to hop back on the bandwagon.
The opening day rotation consisted of Kevin Correia, Paul Maholm, Ross Ohlendorf, Charlie Morton, and James McDonald. Ohlendorf strained his shoulder in April which moved Jeff Karstens up from the bullpen. Injuries in August to Correia and Maholm allowed Brad Lincoln and Jeff Locke to each make a few starts.
Correia was acquired over the offseason and signed to a two year deal. He did extremely well in the first half which earned him a questionable spot on the All-Star team, but was miserable after the break and while pitching at home. Maholm actually had one of his best seasons, though you wouldn’t realize it by looking at any conventional statistics. Karstens, Morton, and McDonald each had reasonable seasons, but they were unable to pitch deep into many games. Only McDonald managed a K/9 rate above the league average, but he was also inaccurate with a high BB/9 rate. These pitchers could blame the offense for their lack of run support, but I blame their lack of efficiency.
Joel Hanrahan was the designated closer entering 2011 and he took over the role quite well. He earned his first All-Star selection and ended the season with 40 saves. Evan Meek was weighed down by shoulder tendinitis throughout the season. Jose Veras, Chris Resop, Daniel McCutchen, Tony Watson, and Jason Grilli (obtained from Philadelphia) gobbled the most innings among the Buccos relief pitchers. Each of them posted a K/9 above 8 except Daniel. Amazingly, Resop, Grilli, and Veras were among the top 30 relievers in regards to their K/9 rates at 10.21, 10.19, and 10.01, respectively. Joe Beimel, Daniel Moskos, and Chris Leroux also made their share of appearances throughout the season, though Beimel was not very effective.
Insufficient outings by the Pirates' starting pitchers inevitably overworked their young bullpen and caused the team to falter toward the end of the season.
The Pirates' backstop position was plagued by injuries this season as they cycled through the use of Ryan Doumit, Chris Snyder, and Michael McKenry. McKenry was acquired from Boston in June and received the majority of the innings behind homeplate, which was disappointing considering Doumit and Snyder combined for a salary over $11 million, about 20% of the team’s payroll. Doumit provided the best offense among the three, which is typical for him, but he just can not stay healthy over long periods of time while playing as the catcher anymore.
The Buccos were either injury prone or inconsistent across the infield for the majority of the season. Their only cornerstone was second basemen, Neil Walker, who had a decent all-around season. Ronny Cedeno had an average season at the plate by his standards, which is still quite bad, though his defense at shortstop did improve. Both players received nominations for a Gold Glove, though neither won.
Pedro Alvarez was dubbed the starting third basemen on opening day, but he just could not find his swing and spent the majority of the season struggling, hurt, or in the minors. In his absence, Brandon Wood and Josh Harrison each had equal opportunity in the hot corner. Wood provided better defense, while Harrison was a more consistent hitter. Chase d'Arnaud also logged some time to back them up as well as Cedeno, but he was equally disappointing both on and off the field.
Lyle Overbay and Garrett Jones platooned at first. Jones had a decent season and recorded the second most homers for the team. Overbay did a great job fielding at first, but had a poor year at the plate. He was released soon after Derrek Lee was acquired from the Orioles. Lee would have been the offensive power the Pirates were after, but he hit the DL and only played 28 games. His WAR was equal to Jones (0.9) even though he played a fraction of his season with the Pirates.
The situations in left and center field were originally handled by Jose Tabata and Andrew McCutchen, respectively, but Tabata spent nearly two months nursing an injured quad. Right field consisted of another platoon with Jones and Matt Diaz. McCutchen had another great season, even though his batting average did sink a little; Jones did fine filling in roles at first and right; Tabata did well while he was healthy; and Diaz left much desired offensively and on the field. He was eventually traded after acquiring Ryan Ludwick.
Ludwick hit the DL shortly after he was obtained and did not make the same impact as Lee. Xavier Paul and Alex Presley did their share of playing the corner outfield once it was realized Diaz could not play and Tabata was injured. Both played the field well, but Presley trumped Paul with better offense.
Top Offensive Player
Andrew McCutchen easily led the Pirates offensively with a WAR of 5.7. He ended the season as the team leader in practically every offensive category: home runs, runs, RBIs, and stolen bases. Although his batting average was down and his strikeout rate was up compared to previous years, his on base percentage stayed about the same due to an increased walk rate. An increased slugging percentage and isolated power rating may indicate we could expect more homers from him in seasons to come.
This may be arguable, but I believe Joel Hanrahan had the greatest impact on the mound this year for the Pirates. Not only do the conventional statistics support his performance (40 saves, 1.83 ERA, 1.05 WHIP), but so do the advanced metrics (8.0 K/9, 3.81 K/BB, .282 BABIP, 2.18 FIP, 2.73 SIERA, 2.98 xFIP). His 2.0 WAR ranked 7th among qualified relief pitchers, 4th among team closers behind only Craig Kimbrel, Jonathan Papelbon, and Mariano Rivera.
Pittsburgh Pirates 2011 Report Card
Pittsburgh Pirates 2012 Offseason Outlook
Pittsburgh Pirates 2012 Season Preview