ESPN recently released their way-too-early 2021 power rankings. Among the rankings, the Pittsburgh Pirates come in last place.
The Major League Baseball season ended Tuesday night with the Los Angeles Dodgers taking the World Series in six games over the Tampa Bay Rays. The two forward thinking analytical heavy teams showed what moneyball can do, and put on a great show for all baseball fans. Meanwhile, the Pittsburgh Pirates finished the 2020 season wit the worst record in baseball.
With the season over, ESPN’s David Schoenfield released their way-too-early power rankings. Looking through it, you’ll find your typical suspects. The Dodgers, Braves, Padres, Rays and White Sox rank 1-5 in their power rankings. Nearing the bottom is the same, with the likes of the Rangers, Tigers and Rockies ranking as some of the worst teams. But out of all of the teams, ESPN ranks the Pittsburgh Pirates last having the following to say about the Bucs’ 2021 odds:
"Let’s see, a small-market team coming off the worst record in the sport, won’t spend any money in free agency, and whose three best players in 2019 were all terrible in 2020. The first step is to hope Josh Bell, Bryan Reynolds and Kevin Newman rebound, but with most of the organization’s top prospects still a ways off, the short-term outlook looks bleak. Heck, the long-term outlook isn’t exactly full of roses and puppies."
Notably, they have a 300-1 odds of winning the National League Pennant, so not impossible, just really, really not likely.
The Pittsburgh Pirates are coming off a season where they were the only team not to win 20 games, going 19-41 in Derek Shelton’s first season. Though they did experience a handful of injuries, many of the injuries were to fringe players with the only impactful ones being Jameson Taillon, Chris Archer and Keone Kela. Among their healthy players, most struggled. Guys that had good 2019 seasons like Josh Bell, Kevin Newman and Bryan Reynolds struggled heavily for at least half of the season.
Pitching wise they weren’t awful, but they weren’t alll that great either. Joe Musgrove, Steven Brault, Chris Stratton and Richard Rodriguez put on great pitching displays throghout the season, but Mitch Keller, Trevor Williams, Geoff Hartlieb, Derek Holland and J.T. Brubaker ranged from inconsistent to downright bad.
Their team’s offense as a whole ranked last in on base percentage, slugging percentage wOBA, next to last in wRC+ and fWAR. The pitching staff had a 4.68 ERA, 4.80 FIP and 1.36 WHIP. Surprisigly, they didn’t rank in the bottom five of any of those stats, and actually ranked 11th in strikeout rate. But they did struggle with walks with the highest walk rate in baseball.
They also won’t be very active in the free agent market, but that isn’t going to be limited to just the Pittsburgh Pirates this time around. With no in-stadium revenue through tickets, concessions, or through gift shops and other such ways of income completley absent in 2020, most teams are going to be quiet this free agent season with even the ones getting bigger name free agents siging with teams who are reluctantly doing so. Plus, with a much stronger and deeper free agent class next offseason, teams right now have no real incentive to go all in.
Not only are they going to be fairly inactive this free agent season, with the expection of a few non-guarenteed minor league signings and the one or two low-cost inning eater brought in, the Bucs are also going to continue to tear things down. We saw the start of the rebuild last off season when they sent Starling Marte to the Diamondbacks, and nearly trading Joe Musgrove at the 2020 trade deadline. Musgrove, Rich Rod and Adam Frazier are all going to get some attention trade wise.
However, the future isn’t as bleak as ESPN makes it seem to be. FanGraphs currently ranks the Bucs with the 4th best farm system in baseball, behind the silver medalist Tampa Bay Rays, San Deigo Padres and Detroit Tigers. They’ve also seen some of their young players make their debuts like Ke’Bryan Hayes who looks like he could be their next Andrew McCutchen for the next 8-10 years. Prospects like 2020 first-round pick Nick Gonzales, the ever-so-imposing Oneil Cruz, flame thrower Tahnaj Thomas, and now top-100 prospect Liover Peguero are all very promising. There’s light on the horizon and the Pirates could be back in competition by 2023, or even 2022 if their prospects do very well.
Not everything is as dark and drery as finishing last sounds. Sure it’s not the best look and not always fun for fans, but the reward for doing so is greater than finishing as a 70-80 win, mid-tier team with no real direction, like the Pirates were a few years ago. The Pittsburgh Pirates finishing within the bottom five teams is a good thing as this will get them a high draft pick who could be an vital part of their next playoff caliber team. With so many changes in coaching, scouting, development, and in the front office the past two years with more changes coming, things are bound to be different in a positive way.