Pittsburgh Pirates: Biggest Surprise So Far in 2017

Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

The Pittsburgh Pirates are off to a shaky start in 2017.  What is weird is that they are having success in an area that many did not think that they would.

The Pittsburgh Pirates are off to a slow start.  They have swept two series so far, beating the Braves and the Cubs.  Meanwhile, they have been swept in their other three series by the Red Sox, the Reds, and most recently the Cardinals.  The season, in a way, is going how many fans thought it would go.  The Pittsburgh Pirates have a decent record, but not great.  Many fans expected this team to be a third place team in the division, and right now that seems to be realistic.  However, the reason many were expecting them to be a middle of the pack team has actually not been the reason.  This may be the biggest surprise, not only in Pittsburgh, but in baseball.

Starting Pitching

Entering the season, the Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitching was the most talked about negative aspect of the team.  Many were hoping to see the Pittsburgh Pirates make a trade for a starter.  The biggest piece that many wanted was Jose Quintana from the White Sox.  Fans felt that adding a top-flight arm to a rotation led by Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon would really help solidify this team’s chances at making the playoffs again.  In the end, the Pittsburgh Pirates did not add another starter and rolled into the season with one of the youngest rotation is baseball.  Three-fifths of the rotation made their big league debuts in 2016.  This was the main issue people had with the rotation, that it was too inexperienced and had too much unknown surrounding it.

The crazy thing is, the starting pitching has actually been the exact opposite.  The starters have done a great job this season.  They have not really let any games get out of the hand. In fact, they currently rank 11th in baseball in earned run average.  Entering the season if you were told the Pittsburgh Pirates would be in the top half of the league in terms of ERA, then you would have thought that they would be in first place in the division.  However, with the offensive woes, that has not been the case.

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Ivan Nova

Even a bigger surprise, is how well Ivan Nova has performed.  Many expected Nova to do well once again this year.  Why would he not?  He has always had upside in his career, and he was able to find consistency last season when he was acquired. Still, last season he was one of the best starters in the National League post-deadline.  Could the Pittsburgh Pirates really expect him to continue that?

Well, he has been just as good.  So far this season, Nova has made three starts and is only 1-2.  With that being said, he owns a 2.25 earned run average and has yet to walk any batters.  In fact, his FIP is even sub-3 at 2.92.  It does not seem that Nova is going to regress much.  Even if he does regress, it seems more likely that he will be a 3 ERA and not a 5 ERA like he was in New York.  Which still will make him very valuable, especially on his modest contract.

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Can it Continue?

The Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitching was the biggest question mark entering Spring Training.  However, it should be far from the biggest question mark at this point.  Gerrit Cole has produced better results in his last two starts.  Meanwhile, Jameson Taillon is pitching like he was the top pitcher taken in his draft class or something.  Oh wait he was, and he showing why.  Those two were expected to perform.  However, Ivan Nova is proving that he is a legitimate veteran starter and is helping give the Pittsburgh Pirates 3 quality starters.  Anything after those three is gravy.  Hopefully, Chad Kuhl and Tyler Glasnow continue to make strides in their young and developing careers, and if they can, the Pittsburgh Pirates should continue to have a top half of the league pitching staff.