From April till the end of July the Pittsburgh Pirates looked like playoff contenders, and on July 31st their record stood at 59-44. They had just added Wandy Rodriguez, Gaby Sanchez, and Travis Snider at the trade deadline addressing their positions of need. The Pirates also had their top hitting prospect, Starling Marte, waiting in the wings, ready to receive the call to the Majors. They appeared to be in a position to improve upon their record and take advantage of an easy schedule. Instead, the opposite happened. The Pirates posted a record of 11-17 in August, and have followed this up with a record of 2-10 so far in September. The awful record reflected the level of contribution the team was receiving from its players. The hitters posted an OPS of .714 in August that was 72 points lower than their July OPS. They've followed that up with a even worse OPS of .657 in September. The pitchers also struggled, they posted a 4.39 ERA in August which was at least 40 points higher than an ERA they posted in any of the previous months. Their struggles have continued into September as they have posted a 4.06 ERA this month. While the 4.06 ERA represents an improvement compared to the August ERA it is still the pitchers second worst month of the season. There are many factors that went into the increased ERA and this article will try to determine what pirates fans should expect from the pitchers the rest of the month.
One factor that might have helped the increased ERA are the peripherals that the team posted. By examining the peripherals we can determine whether or not the pitchers had any control over the ERA, because once the ball is hit the pitcher has no control over what happens. In August the Pirates pitchers posted a K/9 rate of 6.96, which is much lower than the season mark of 7.39 strikeouts per game. On the other hand, the Pirates pitchers also posted a 2.64 BB/9 rate in August. That rate was good enough to rank 10th in the MLB for the month and is much lower than the season mark of 3.08 BB/9. For the month of August the pitchers also posted an GB/FB rate of 1.42, which is exactly the same as the season GB/FB rate. For August the Pirates posted a K/9 that was 0.43 lower than the season average, they also posted a BB/9 that was 0.44 lower than their season average. The decrease in walks led to a K/BB rate of 2.64 for the month of August which than their season average. In September the pitchers have posted even better peripherals than in August, the K/9 stands at 8.49 and the BB/9 stands at 3.16. The K/9 of 8.49 is good for 8th best in the MLB for this month and the K/BB of 2.69 is 29 points higher than the season mark of 2.40 K/BB. To go along with the good strikeout rate the Pirates pitchers have posted an GB/FB rate of 1.75 for September. The GB/FB rate for September ranks as the 3rd best GB/FB rate in the MLB and is 33 points higher than the season rate. Yet despite posting better peripherals in August and September than for the whole season team the ERA has risen in those months.
Another factor that might have helped the ERA increase in August and September is luck. By looking at the several statistics that determine luck we will be able to see if luck has played a role into the Pirates ERA increasing. One stat that determines luck is strand rate. Every pitcher, when given a large enough sample size will post a strand rate of 72%, by looking at the strand rates of the Pirates we can see how lucky or unlucky they've been. For the season the Pirates have posted a strand rate of 73%, which is a little lucky. Yet in August the team posted a strand rate of 67.5%. This is very unlucky, if the Pirates had gotten normal luck 17.8% of the base runners that did score on the pirates in August would not have ended up scoring. In September the Pirates have been a little luckier than in August but still unlucky as a whole posting a strand rate of 69.2%. In August the Pirates pitchers also posted a BABIP of .289, 8 points higher than their season mark. This is unlucky because the month their BABIP rose was also the same month that their K/9 rate lowered. This means that the month that more opponents were striking out less and putting the ball in play coincided with the month the pitchers posted an unsustainable BABIP. In September Pirates pitchers have been even more unlucky posting a HR/FB of 17.2%. This mark is 6.2% higher than the season mark and has been good for the 2nd unluckiest mark in the MLB. So, despite posting the 3rd best GB/FB rate in the majors during September, The Pirates have given up the 5th most HRs during that timeframe. This is very unsustainable if the Pirates get any luck at all the HR/FB rate will drop.
After looking at what could be the important factor in Pirates rise in ERA it is easy to conclude that the Pirates are giving up more runs because of plain old bad luck. The Pirates pitchers have been quietly posting very strong peripherals in September and if their look reverses we could be looking at a playoff worthy pitching staff. The reversal in luck needs to come soon however, because with each unlucky game the Pirates are falling in the standings and might not have enough time to turn it around.
Part II will be up soon and will focus on the hitting.