It's been nearly a decade since the Pittsburgh Pirates ending their losing seasons streak. After improving their lineup this offseason, how do the two compare?
The 2023 season will be ten years since the Pittsburgh Pirates made their return to Buctober in 2013 since 1992. This started a three-year run where they made the Wild Card game but, unfortunately, never made it past the NLDS. But ten years later, the Pirates are showing some decent improvement. Both prospects and new veteran additions are coming to the Pirates' roster, and they look to make '23 an interesting year.
Given that it's been ten years since the Pirates constructed their magical 2013 line-up, I want to go back and take a look at that line-up compared to what they're projected to put out there in 2023. Plus let's see if each position has a better player or worse player at it today.
The Pittsburgh Pirates signed Russell Martin as their backstop in the 2012-2013 offseason. At the time, they wanted to take advantage of framing, and Martin brought just that to the table. Martin's defense was off the charts in 2013, racking up +21 defensive runs saved and +13.1 framing runs. Martin likely would have taken home the Gold Glove this season had it not been for a historic defensive season from Yadier Molina, who had +30 DRS and +21.1 framing runs. That's still the most DRS in a single season by a backstop, tied with Roberto Perez in 2019.
It also helped that the former all-star was a respectable batter. Martin slashed .227/.327/.377 with a .315 wOBA and 102 wRC+, making him slightly above average. Martin walked at an 11.5% rate with 15 home runs and a .151 isolated slugging percentage. Between his outstanding defense and solid offense, Martin was worth +5.4 fWAR.
Fast forward to 2023, and the Pirates have Austin Hedges behind the plate. The Bucs still have one of the best defensive catchers in the game. Last year, Hedges had +8 DRS, and +4.4 framing runs in just 839 innings. Those are actually poor numbers for Hedges as he's put up +20 DRS/+20 framing run seasons in the past. Despite catching over 8500 fewer innings than Martin in his career, Hedges already has 57.3% of Martin's total DRS.
But while Hedges might be a fantastic defender, he provides almost no value with the bat. He's failed to post a wRC+ above 50 since 2019. Last year, he slashed just .163/.241/.248 with a .225 wOBA, and 42 wRC+. Since the Year of the Pitcher in 1968, Hedges's 2022 season is the third worst hitting year per OPS, tied with Dick Billings in 1973 for the second worst per wOBA and the 14th-worst per wRC+. Believe it or not, Hedges had an even worst wRC+ in 2021 at 40.
Martin is the clear-cut better player here. The two might be comparable in defense, but when it comes to hitting, Hedges makes Russell Martin look like early-2000s Barry Bonds. The difference between Martin's wRC+ in 2013 and Hedges's wRC+ in 2022 was about the same difference between Shohei Ohtani and Jorge Mateo last year.