How Did 2014 Pittsburgh Pirates Win 88 Games?


May 26, 2014; New York, NY, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates left fielder Starling Marte (6), center fielder Andrew McCutchen (22) and right fielder Josh Harrison (5) celebrate their win against the New York Mets at Citi Field. The Pirates defeated the Mets 5-3. Mandatory Credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

How Did the 2014 Pittsburgh Pirates Win 88 Games?

By Joseph Luchok

After the 2013 season, I wrote an article titled How Did the 2013 Pittsburgh Pirates Win 94 Games?  I pointed out how difficult it was to win 94 and that it was even more difficult to win 94 games two seasons in a row. In 2013 five teams won 94 or more games. How did those teams do in 2014?

St. Louis won 97 games in 2013 and fell to 90 wins in 2014, a decline of 7.

Boston won 97 games in 2013 and fell to 71 wins in 2014, a decline 26

Oakland won 96 games in 2013 and fell to 88 wins in 2014, a decline of 8.

Atlanta won 96 games in 2013 and fell to 79 wins in 2014, a decline of 17.

Pittsburgh won 94 games in 2013 and fell to 88 wins in 2014, a decline of 6.

So no team that won 94 or more in 2013 won 94 or more in 2014. In 2014 there were four teams that won 94 or more. Los Angeles Angels won 98, Washington Nationals won 96, Baltimore Orioles won 96, and Los Angeles Dodgers won 94.

Interestingly, the Pirates dropped from 94 in 2013 to 88 in 2014 and ended in the same place they ended the 2013 season, with the first wildcard spot.

2014 was a challenge due to injuries and failures.

Francisco Liriano started slowly and finished strong in 2014.

The opening rotation was Francisco Liriano, Charlie Morton, Wandy Rodriguez, Gerrit Cole, and Edinson Volquez. Volquez with 31 starts and Liriano with 29 took the ball regularly. Rodriguez started 6 games and was let go. Cole with 22 starts and Morton with 26 missed time with injuries. Two pitchers who began the season in the minors, Jeff Locke with 21 starts and Vance Worley with 17 starts filled the void. Brandon Cumpton also started 10 games.

Apr 6, 2014; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates relief pitcher Tony Watson (44) pitches against the St. Louis Cardinals during the sixth inning at PNC Park. The Pirates won 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Pirates won 88 games because the replacement pitchers all gave them some good starts and the bullpen performed well. Worley won eight games with a 2.85 ERA, Locke won seven with a 3.91 ERA, Cumpton even contributed three wins with a poor 4.89 ERA. Three pitchers who started the season in the minors won a combined 18 games. In the pen Watson (78 games), Melancon (72 games), and Hughes (63 games) all had an ERA under 2. Jenmar Gomez, who appeared in 44 games but threw 62 innings had 3.19 ERA. Late season call ups John Holdzkom and Bobby LaFromboise also pitched well in limited appearances.

Jul 10, 2014; St. Louis, MO, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Edinson Volquez (36) celebrates with catcher Russell Martin (55) after throwing a complete game against the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium. Pirates defeated the Cardinals 9-1. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

Catcher was a strong position with Russell Martin having an excellent season and Chris Stewart hitting better than expected as the backup. Martin missed some time with injury and Tony Sanchez filled in hitting .267 with 2 homers and 13 RBI.

Who started at 1st base opening day? He is currently starting in LF for the Giants, Travis Ishikawa. In spring training the projected 1st base platoon was Gaby Sanchez and Andrew Lambo but Lambo did not hit well so free agent signing Ishikawa took the position to start the season. Unfortunately, Ishikawa only hit .206 with 1 homer so after 15 games the Pirates made a trade and got Ike Davis from the Mets. Sanchez and Davis were the 1st base platoon most of the season and neither did great though Davis did hit 10 homers for the Pirates. Sanchez hit 7 so first base produced 17. That was the same total 1st base produced in 2013 when Sanchez hit 7 and Garret Jones hit 10 (while playing 1st base). Pedro Alvarez played five games at first and hit 3 homers.

Neil Walker had a solid 2014 season.

Second base and shortstop were pretty constant all season with Neil Walker and Jordy Mercer having good seasons. Walker had a couple of stints on the DL and Mercer missed a few games. Walker played in 137 games and Mercer 149. Walker set a Pirate season record for 2nd basemen with 23 home runs and Mercer hit 12. Thirty-seven home runs from your middle infield is a pretty good season.

Third base had the reigning National League home leader, Pedro Alvarez. Unfortunately, Alvarez had severe throwing problems, committing 25 errors in only 103 games. Next highest on the team was Mercer with 11 errors in 144 games. Alvarez’s errors were so bad that the Pirates moved him to first base He was injured soon after moving to first and he only had 1 at bat after August 26. He did hit 18 home runs in his limited season.

Starling Marte will be playing beside Andrew McCutchen for a few more years.

The outfield opened with Starling Marte, Andrew McCutchen, and Travis Snider. Jose Tabata was the platoon player in right with Snider. McCutchen had another excellent season though he missed some time with an injury. Marte also missed some time but took over center field when McCutchen went down and had a great 2nd half, hitting .348 with 8 home runs and 24 RBI. Travis Snider had poor first half but also an excellent 2nd half, hitting .288 with 9 homers and 24 RBI. Jose Tabata had nice .289 BA but showed no power and was DFA, accepting assignment to AAA. With the RF platoon delivering little the Pirates brought up to prospect Gregory Polanco to play RF. Polanco hit the ground running but then stopped hitting. Over the last two months of the season Marte, McCutchen, and Snider was the main outfield.

That brings us to the Pirate’s Mr. Everything, Josh Harrison. By the end of the season Harrison had played 16 games at 2nd, 68 games at 3 rd, 6 games at SS, 25 games in LF and 25 games in RF. Wherever he played Harrison hit, and hit, and hit, finishing 2nd in NL batting race with a .315 average. It is safe to say that without Harrison the Pirates probably would have missed the playoffs.

The Pirates scrambled for players at times. Clint Barmes, who was signed as a backup infielder, missed most of the season with injury. Michael Martinez, Jason Nix, and Brent Morel started some games as did Jaff Decker and Andrew Lambo. They were players who probably did not contribute much to wins or to losses but they were needed.

Aug 31, 2014; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen (L) and third baseman Josh Harrison (R) dance after Harrison hit a lead-off solo home run against the Cincinnati Reds during the first inning at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Overall the 2014 Pirates finished 10th in Major League and fourth in the NL in runs scored, sixth in MLB and third in NL in hits, sixth in majors and third in NL in homers, third in MLB and second in NL in OBP, seventh in MLB and third in NL in SLG, fifth in MLB and third in NL in OPS.

That was significantly better than their 2013 hitting stats when they were ninth in NL in runs, twelfth in NL in hits, eighth in NL in OBP and OPS, and seventh in NL in SLG.

Pitching dropped a bit as they were third in NL ERA in 2013 and fifth in 2014.

In fielding they were 11th in NL at .984 in 2013 and tied for ninth in NL with six other team at .983 in 2014. Once Harrison took over 3rd base the 2014 team was probably a better fielding team than the 2013 team.

Sep 18, 2014; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Gerrit Cole (45) reacts in the dugout after being removed from the game against the Boston Red Sox during the eighth inning at PNC Park. The Pirates won 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

That brings us back to how did they win 88 games? If anything, last year’s team overachieved, Pythagorean says the 2013 team should have won 88 and the 2014 team 87. My eye test says they should have won 90 to 92 games in 2014.

The killer in 2014 was April when they went 9-16, their only losing month. In 2013 they had no losing month. Look at the other NL playoff teams: Dodgers had no losing month, Giants had two losing months and finished with same record as Pirates, Cardinals had no losing month, Nationals had 1 losing month but it was only 4 games below .500 to the Pirates 7 below month.

How did the 2014 Pirates win 88 games? They were one of the best hitting teams in baseball, still high in the NL in pitching, and fielded about the same as 2013.

The 2013 Pirates overachieved, the 2014 Pirates may have slightly underachieved. In the 2013 wild card game the Pirates faced a top pitcher who had a bad game. In the 2014 wild card game they faced a top pitcher at his best. We will never know what they would have done had they won the wild card game and gone on to play Washington but I would have liked their chances.

Oct 1, 2014; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; The San Francisco Giants celebrate after defeating the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 2014 National League Wild Card playoff baseball game at PNC Park. The Giants won 8-0. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports