The 2016 season is already two weeks old, and the time has seen to have flown by. The Bucs have got off to a 7-6 start, after starting with a sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals in the opening series. But after dropping two to the Cincinnati Reds and then four straight to the Detroit Tigers and Milwaukee Brewers, some fans began to overreact – whether that is right or wrong is up to them. It was also not too long ago that there was some worry about the “lack of power” that they were losing with the subtraction of second baseman Neil Walker and first baseman Pedro Alvarez, who both had seen success with the club in past years and were key contributors in their playoff campaigns. There were questions about the rotation due to A.J. Burnett retiring, J.A. Happ signing with the Toronto Blue Jays, and Charlie Morton being dealt to the Philadelphia Phillies. The season is two weeks old now, and although it is a small sample size, I thought it was the perfect time to compare the first two (first 13 games) of the 2015 season and the current 2016 season, to give what this start has been more context, because of the big focus on starting better in April.
In 2015, the Pirates record was flip flopped from what it was now, they started 6-7 and got swept in their first series of the year in Cincinnati. The teams offense was rather lackluster, as they had an overall slash of .216/.272/.351 while only scoring 48 runs in 460 plate appearances. Their .216 average ranked 25th, .272 on-base percentage ranked 29th, and their .351 slugging percentage ranked 21st, as did their 48 runs. The Pirates only walked 24 times, tying the Brewers for last, and the 108 strike outs was bad enough for the eighth most. They left 67 runners on base, which is about 5 per game. Needless to say, the offense was not what was seen the rest of the year, the team that slashed .260/.323/.396 and scoring 679 runs.
This years offense has gotten off to a fast start, as the team has slashed .295/.385/.423 while scoring 57 runs. The club has ranks first on average, first in on-base percentage, and tenth in slugging percentage. The .423 slugging percentage is .0.72 points high than it was after the first 13 games last year, despite the fact the teams has six less home runs. They’ve done so by increasing their doubles by ten, triples by four, and total hits by 40. The team has benefited by a .348 baBIP, which is the highest in the league, but the on-base approach and seeing loads and loads of pitches. The Pirates have walked 61 times and have only struck out 86 times, a 11.75 percent rate and a 16.57 percent rate respectively. Last year at this time the Pirates had a 5.22 percent walk rate and a 23.48 percent strikeout rate. A massive difference, which can be seen especially in Gregory Polanco, a player who has 13 walks – leads the league – and has 23.6 percent of his total walks he had last year, despite only playing in 8.5 percent of the games he did last year. The patience approach is getting runners on, and the Pirates have struggled bringing them in, even though they rank tied for fifth in runs with runners in scoring position. The struggles stem from the fact that they are leaving about nine runners on per game, as the team ranks 14th in average. The one positive side to look at is their .252 baBIP, which ranks 24th. As they keep putting the ball in play, the hits will start to come and the Bucs as a whole will climb up the leader board in both in runs and average with runners in scoring position, and this offense will be more deadly.
For the past few years the Pirates have been known as a team that pitches well. Last year the Pirates had a 3.03 ERA and a 1.10 WHIP, which ranked eighth and sixth respectively. Last season the team had 112 strikeouts to 32 walks, a 3.5 K/BB ratio. The team was pitching well and the reason their record was a game below .500 through thirteen games was because of their offense.
This year has been a different story, however. The team has struggled on the bump, especially the bullpen. As starters, the Pirates 3.45 ERA ranks eleventh. The bullpen has a 4.89 ERA and ranks 24th, which is far from what the bullpen has been in the previous years. But with Jared Hughes starting his rehab assignment, the Pirates bullpen will have a major cog back. The early season struggles of Arquimedes Caminero have also been rather large, as the right hander has a 5.87 ERA and a 5.32 FIP, which are both off from his 3.62 ERA and 3.80 FIP he totaled last season. The biggest difference in the bullpen might be the loss of left-handed reliever Antonio Bastardo. Bastardo posted a 2.98 ERA and 3.33 FIP, which included a 2.45 ERA after his ERA ballooned to a season high 7.50 on May 5th. The two left-handed relievers outside of Tony Watson, Cory Luebke and Kyle Lobstein, have posted an 8.10 ERA and 10.31 FIP and a 7.00 ERA and a 6.11 FIP respectively. Bastardo struggled early, but he was a big key in the Pirates bullpen. This year’s two left handers do not have the track record that Bastardo had, which can potentially be a cause for concern. The one down side is the team has a .281 baBIP against, which is the eleventh lowest. The big thing the Pirates can do to help fix the pitching is to decrease the walks, and increase the strikeouts, as the team has a 1.78 K/BB ratio so far.
The Pirates offense has the look to be a more well balanced offense and will produce, mainly in cause of their on-base approach. Their low baBIP should improve with runners in scoring position, which will cause their average with runners in scoring position to go up. Their high baBIP overall will decrease, but they do have the offense to still produce a high average and due to their doubles and triples a top ten slugging. Their pitching has been worse, especially in their bullpen, but with Jared Hughes set to make his return and Jameson Taillon and Tyler Glasnow ready to make their debuts this summer, there is a high chance of improvement. Overall the team has the look to be stronger through 13 games than they did last year, and if they catch fire in the summer like they have the past couple of seasons, this could be another special year for the team.
*Numbers from baseball-reference