When the season was put on hold in March, Baseball Reference started a simulated season on the simulation game Out Of The Park Baseball. This is what happened with the Pittsburgh Pirates.
When the Pittsburgh Pirates and the rest of baseball shut down, and it was announced that we wouldn’t start baseball in the last days of March and first days of April, Baseball Reference, one of the largest baseball databases on the internet, started a simulation of the 2020 season in the simulator-genre video game Out Of The Park Baseball 2021. This simulator is one of the most realistic on the market. Baseball Reference kept this up for the entire year, and here is what I found interesting looking at their simulation of the Pirates’ 2020 campaign.
The first thing I want to go over is who the simulation had as most valuable position player was. Bryan Reynolds had the best season out of any position player for the Pittsburgh Pirates. In 640 plate appearances, Reynolds hit .299/.378/.447 with 13 home runs and an impressive amount of doubles with 38. His 3.6 bWAR led all position players.
One thing I did find very interesting was that Adam Frazier was extremely productive in the batters box. Usually, he’s sat around league average, or about 5% below the league average. However, Frazier hit .299/.351/.431 with 34 doubles and a 3.5 bWAR.
Jacob Stallings, though he wasn’t awful with the bat in 2020, he was way more productive in this simulation as well. Through 365 plate appearances, the defensively gifted catcher hit .281/.337/.419.
Ke’Bryan Hayes was not nearly as productive in this simulation compared to how he did in his first taste of big league action in real life. In the 433 PAs he did play in, Hayes hit just .254/.316/.365 with 4 home runs. In real life, Hayes hit 5 home runs in 338 less plate appearances.
On the pitching side of things, Joe Musgrove was the most valuable man on the mound ofr the Pittsburgh Pirates. He tossed 207.1 innings, and had a strong 3.04 ERA, 3.52 FIP and 1.05 WHIP. Definitely very good numbers, and he actually posted a really similar FIP in 2020 at 3.42. Notably, he posted what would have been his career best hits/9 (7.2), home runs/9 (0.8), and bWAR (4.7).
The Pittsburgh Pirates did add one piece to the team throughout this simulation. They traded for Cody Allen, the Cleveland Indians’ former shutdown closer. After being an absolutely dominant force out of the pen from 2013 to 2017, Allen had struggled in both 2018 and was even released after giving up 16 earned runs in 23 innings in 2019.
The Pittsburgh Pirates acquired Allen in a trade with the Rangers, and he didn’t really turn things around in Pittsburgh. In 35.2 innings, Allen had surrendered a 5.05 ERA on 36 hits, including seven home runs, walking 15 batters and only striking out 29. He posted a negative bWAR at -0.4.
Chris Archer has to be the most disappointing Pirate pitcher in this simulation. In 93.2 innings for the Bucs, Archer struggled as you’d expect. He had a 4.71 ERA, 4.49 FIP and 1.34 WHIP. He only struck out 82 batters and walked 39. Though his home run rate went way down from his 2019 rate, it still sat at 1.2 per 9.
The Pittsburgh Pirates traded him to the Milwaukee Brewers, and this is where it gets fun. Archer turned into the Brewers’ best pitcher, because even in a computer simulation, the Pirates can’t escape the pain. In his next 102.2 innings, the right hander now had a 3.07 ERA, 3.44 ERA and 1.12 WHIP. With a 2.5 bWAR, he was the Brewers’ 4th most valuable pitcher, however no Brewers starter averaged more WAR per batter faced.
Archer wasn’t the only player we traded as in the simulation. The Bucs traded relief pitcher Richard Rodriguez to the Los Angeles Angels and fellow reliever Robbie Erlin made his way to the Miami Marlins.
The Rooke of the Year for the Pittsburgh Pirates was Blake Weiman, a left handed pitcher we projected as a guy you could see in 2021. Weiman pitched in 71.2 innings posting a solid 3.39 ERA, 3.69 FIP and 1.42 WHIP. Weiman struck out a ton of batters, getting 80 of the 315 batters he faced down on strike three. He also only allowed 24 to reach via free pass and gave up 9 long balls.
Three of Pittsburgh’s best players in 2020’s reality were barely contributors in the simulation. Chad Kuhl, Steven Brault and Colin Moran barely played. Brault appeared in two games, Moran appeared in 40, and Kuhl also played just two games.
In the end of this simulation, the Pittsburgh Pirates finished 67-95. They finished 29 games out of first, with the St. Louis Cardinals winning 96 games. However despite this, the Pirates weren’t the worst team in the division. The Chicago Cubs finished 65-97 and 31 games out of first place. If you think about it, were we truly better in this simulated season than in real life? In both this simulation and in reality, the Pirates did awful, however the real life Pirates didn’t get to see Archer completely dominate the competition for the Brewers, and also got the #1 overall pick. Although I will admit that seeing the Cubs below the Pirates was very amusing.