Pittsburgh Pirates With A June To Forget

Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports /

The Pittsburgh Pirates had their worst month of June under Neal Huntington since 2010, a year in which they went 6-20 with a 4.71 ERA, and ended the season going 57-105, and acquiring the first overall pick in the 2011 draft. The Pirates picked Gerrit Cole in 2011, so the 2010 season at least produced that.

After the games on May 31, the 2016 Pittsburgh Pirates sat at 29-22, six and half games behind the Chicago Cubs, and were tied with the New York Mets for the Wild Card. All was right in Bucco Nation. The team was off to that fast start, their 29 wins in their first 51 games is the second highest under Huntington, only the 31-20 2013 Pirates were better. Then the month June occurred.

The Pittsburgh Pirates went 9-19 in the month of June, tied with the Philadelphia Phillies for the worst in the National League, and just a half game better than the Los Angeles Angels, who had the worst record at 8-19. The club is now 38-41, sit 14 games behind the Cubs in the division, and are three and a half games behind the Miami Marlins for the Wild Card, with the Mets and St. Louis Cardinals both being three games better than the Pirates.

The pitching staff was problematic, a common trend all season. The team as a whole ranks 22nd in ERA with a 4.49 ERA, the starting staff has a 4.74 ERA ranking 21st, and the pen comes in at 16th with a 4.07 ERA. They have not been a very good team when it comes to toeing the rubber. In April the club had a 4.10 ERA, in May a 3.97 ERA, and then in June the team had a 5.31 ERA, ranking third worst in baseball.

The starting staff went from a 3.93 ERA in April, 4.20 ERA in May, and a 6.06 ERA in June. In the month of June, Francisco Liriano posted a 7.03 ERA in five starts, Jeff Locke a 6.75 ERA in five starts, Jon Niese a 6.21 ERA in six starts, Chad Kuhl made his MLB debut going five innings and giving up three runs, Jameson Taillon had a 3.86 ERA in five starts, but he also only went four innings in two of them, and Gerrit Cole got hurt. The rotation was dreadful.

Pittsburgh Pirates
Jun 28, 2016; Seattle, WA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Jonathon Niese (18) walks back to the dugout after the final out of the fourth inning against the Seattle Mariners at Safeco Field. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports /

The only positives in pitching came from the bullpen. Mark Melancon pitched nine innings and did what he always does, he tossed up zero’s and had a 0.00 ERA and 0.556 WHIP. Despite a 1.875 WHIP, Arquimedes Caminero had a 1.69 ERA in June and a 3.54 FIP, so he looks to be somewhat back on track. AJ Schugel continued to pitch well, posting a 2.45 ERA and 0.600 WHIP. Neftali Feliz had a 3.18 ERA, as he continues to look sharp as a Bucco. But Tony Watson (11.1 innings) and Jared Hughes (12.1 innings) posted a 5.56 ERA and 4.38 ERA respectively.

The good news is, Tony Watson, who really hasn’t been overworked, and has thrown his least amount pitches (496) through June since 2012 (404), had a 2.81 FIP in June. Hughes on the other hand, posted a 6.00 FIP. But the bullpen has now thrown 20.2 scoreless innings, so they look to be back on track.

The offense also hit a dreadful start, after scoring 130 runs in April and 128 in May, the Pirates scored 106 runs, ranking 25th in baseball. The club hit .283/.355/.434 with a 0.44 BB/K in their first 51 games, however in June they proceeded to hit .230/.302/.369 with a 0.33 BB/K.

Part of the problem lies with the 0.337 batting average on balls in play (BABIP) in their first two months, and the drop off occurred in June, as the team posted a .290 BABIP. But the problem really starts with the walk/strikeout ratio. The team started to walk less and strikeout more. Through May, the Pirates had an 8.72 walk percentage and a 19.6 strikeout percentage, but in June they were an 8.02 walk percentage and a 24.6 strikeout percentage.

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Starling Marte hit .345/.382/.548 in June, and was the only regular over a .300 average and was one of four to have an on base over .350, as Gregory Polanco (.358), Jordy Mercer (.361), and Matt Joyce (.373) and also did it in 59 plate appearances, are the others. Josh Harrison was hitting .329/.363/.435 on May 31st is now hitting .280/.307/.384 after hitting .198/.210/.297. John Jaso hit a lousy .197/.313/.296 as well, and Andrew McCutchen hit an even worse .202/.255/.323, as his nightmare season continues. David Freese continued to be a bright spot, having a slugging percentage of .500 in June, as he continues to be a solid find, and should not be traded.

With the offense and pitching performing the way it did, there is no wonder why the team went 9-19 in the month of June. The talks of the being sellers has started, but even sitting three games below .500, the Pirates should not think about selling. The team is still in the hunt, and the talks about their fall is still a tad premature.

The team still has three games against the 35-43 Oakland Athletics, three against the 26-52 Atlanta Braves, 16 games against the 35-42 Milwaukee Brewers, who could trade Jonathan Lucroy and even Ryan Braun, three against the 33-46 San Diego Padres, seven against the 35-45 Philadelphia Phillies, and 11 with the 29-50 Cincinnati Reds, who will likely trade Jay Bruce.

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The schedule gets easier, and the Pittsburgh Pirates will get better, especially with the returns of Gerrit Cole and Francisco Cervelli. Factor in the shift of Juan Nicasio to the bullpen, Jameson Taillon and Chad Kuhl to the rotation, and Tyler Glasnow potentially joining them, the rotation of Cole, Taillon, Kuhl, Glasnow, and either Liriano, Locke, or Niese appears to be much better.  The Bucs could get a big boost at first base when the club calls up Josh Bell, the teams number three prospect according to MLB Pipeline. Adam Frazier is also up, and with his career track record in college and the minors, looks to be a solid bench bat. No matter what happens this season, the month of June was one to forget.

Numbers from baseball-reference and FIP numbers fangraphs