One of the best teams in Major League Baseball for the first half of the 2013 season has been the Pittsburgh Pirates. That’s right, the 53 win 35 loss Pittsburgh Pirates have one of the best records in baseball, currently a half game back of the Saint Louis Cardinals. If you looked at this young Pirates roster, you would be wondering how they are 19 games over .500 with the All-Star game right around the corner. The answer lies in their pitching. With a league best 3.15 ERA, league high 12 shutouts, and with opposing hitters batting .227 against them, this Pirates pitching staff has done an incredible job thus far.
Veterans A.J. Burnett, Francisco Liriano, and Wandy Rodriguez (who is currently on the Disabled List) have lead this pitching staff along with the young talents of Jeff Locke, Charlie Morton, and Gerrit Cole (who made his Major League debut on June 11th). Out of those starting pitchers, the worst ERA is 3.94, the highest opponent’s batting average is .296, and the worst WHIP is 1.33. The best ERA is 2.12, the lowest opponent’s batting average is .204, and the best WHIP is 1.12. What I take away from those numbers is that the Pirates starting pitching has been pretty darn good for the first half of the season.
Now we move on to the best bullpen in Major League baseball anchored by closer Jason Grilli. Grilli leads all closers in the National League with 28 saves (going 28 for 29 in Save Opportunities), and he has 60 strikeouts in 37.2 innings pitched. Although Grilli has been fantastic, so has the rest of the Pirates bullpen. Mark Melancon, Tony Watson, Justin Wilson, Bryan Morris, and Jeanmar Gomez have been lights out, leaving Grilli to close games out. The following stats are truly spectacular: the worst ERA in the Pirates bullpen is 3.48, the highest opponent’s batting average is .219, and the worst WHIP is 1.14! Now, stats in the bullpen can be deceptive based on how many innings the pitchers pitch, but still, these are fantastic numbers, considering they are the worst numbers the Pirates’ bullpen has put up. The fact that opposing hitters are hitting AT BEST .219 when the Pirates bullpen is in the game is absolutely remarkable! I have only mentioned the worst stats of the Pirates bullpen; now let’s move onto the best stats. The best ERA in the Pirates bullpen is 0.85, the lowest opponent’s batting average is .176, and the best WHIP is 0.80. This bullpen is the reason why the Pirates are where they are right now.
I haven’t mentioned the hitting for the Pirates yet, mainly because it has not been that good. Then again, Pirates’ hitters have not had to be that good because of the Pirates’ pitching staff. Pirates’ hitters are 24th in Major League Baseball in runs scored with 341, 23rd in batting average with a team AVG of .243, and in 22nd in on base percentage with a team OBP of .310. For a team in the position that the Pirates are in, those stats are not going to get it done. But, if those stats are not going to get it, then how have the Pirates been scoring runs? They have been executing the little things well. The Pirates have 63 stolen bases this year, complemented by a 73% success rate when stealing. They also have 32 sacrifice hits and 12 sacrifice flies, which means that their hitters are moving runners over and executing with runners in scoring position. When you have players who can steal bases and move runners over, you have the ability as a team to execute the hit-and-run or bunt-and-run.
The Pittsburgh Pirates in my eyes are an average playing extremely well. There is no doubt that their success is well-deserved, but if the hitting continues to be below average for the remainder of the season, their record will start to drop. I do not think that it will drop to the point where they will finish below .500 (19 games over .500 is hard to choke away, but still possible), but they could finish around the 85 win mark, slightly above .500. The bottom line is, Pittsburgh fans should be ecstatic that their Pirates will mostly likely finish .500 or above for the first time in two decades. – Addison Hunsicker