Ridin' With The Bucs: The Rise And Fall Of The 2012 Pirates, And What's Next?

September 9, 2012; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates relief pitcher Kyle McPherson (60) pitches against the Chicago Cubs during the seventh inning at PNC Park. The Chicago Cubs won 4-2. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-US PRESSWIRE

The roller-coaster analogy is one that is often used in sports. It captures the ups and downs that teams experience within games and seasons. The analogy does not work very well for the 2012 Pirates, however. Their season has been much more like the Demon Drop.

From April 6 to May 23, a nonexistent offense was balanced by superb pitching, leaving the team idling at a 20-24 record. Then, from May 25 to August 8, the offense powered up and the Pirates rocketed skywards at a 43-23 pace. On August 9 the bottom dropped out, and the Bucs have been free falling for the past 29 games, posting a 9-20 record.

At the end of a ride on the Demon Drop the rails flatten out and the passengers coast horizontally back to the station. As interested spectators we should hope that this rather tortured analogy survives the next 23 games and that the Pirates coast home slightly above .500.

After the jump: I've compiled the offensive and pitching statistics for the Pirates during the three stretches of games I described above. Enjoy the ride.

April 6 - May 23 (20-24): The Offensive Catestorphe

Below are the percentages per plate appearance for each outcome. Of particular note is the Pirates' low BABIP and BB percentages.

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This table shows runs scored per game (RS/G) plus offensive slashes.

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In the table below wOBA is Weighted On Base Average. If you unfamiliar with the statistic, think of it as OPS, but better. wOBA is scaled to on base percentage; so what looks like a good OBP, is a good wOBA. wRC is Weighted Runs Created. It is the number of runs that a team would be expected to score given its wOBA. In other words, wRC takes raw offensive output and calculates runs. It pays no attention to the sequencing of offensive events. Runs is the number of runs actually scored. Efficiency is the ratio between Runs/wRC. It tells us how well a team scored runs compared to expectations. High efficiency can be caused by timely hitting, excellent baserunning, poor defense by the opponent, etc.

Notice how efficient the Pirates offense was during this period. Even though they didn't score many runs, they made the most of the offensive opportunities they had.

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Finally, I looked at the Pirates record in 1-games and calculated their Pythagorean Record. Pythagorean Record is a predication of team wins based on their run differential. "Luck" is a term that baseballreference.com uses to describe the different between Pythagorean Record and actual record. The Pirates Luck score of four means that the Pirates won four more games than expected during this stretch.

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May 25 - August 8 (43-23): The Offensive Resurgence

Notice the spike in BABIP and HR percentage. Also, K percentage fell and BB percentage increased. Opponents offensive output remained fairly steady.

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Here we can see how dramatically the Pirates run scoring increased (2.2 RS/G per game increase). Also, OPS was up .160 during this stretch of games.

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The Pirates offense remained highly efficient and their strong wOBA reflects the underlying strength of the offense during these 66 games.

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The Pirates again had good success in 1-run games, and they posted a won-loss record three games above expectations.

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August 9 - September 9 (9-20): Free Fall

Over the past month the pitching has stumbled as opponents BABIP and 1b percentage have increased fairly substantially. Also, the Pirates home run percentage has dropped signficantly.

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Opponents run scoring is up 1.25 runs a game from the previous 66 games. Pirates run scoring has dropped from what was probably an unsustainable pace to slightly below league average. The cause for the slight downturn appears to be the drop in slugging percentage.

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The Pirates offense remains efficient, but for the first time their opponents efficiency is above 100 percent.

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The Pirates have been really bad in 1-run games during over the past month; this is reflected in their negative Pythagorean "luck" score.

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The Trajectory Of The Season

Some Pirates fans have made comparisons between this season and the 2011 season. I don't think that anyone would argue that this year's team isn't better than last year's. At least I hope not. What I think people are talking about when they make the comparison is between is the "feel" or rhythm of the two seasons. In that regard, they have a point. The launching point of the 2011 and 2012 seasons are rather similar. So are the drop-offs. The difference of course is that the 2012 Pirates had a steeper ascent and won more consistently for a longer stretch than the 2011 club. Here are the two seasons graphed by winning percentage game-by-game.

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The Remaining 23 Games

The magic number of wins to qualify for the postseason appears to be somewhere around 86 to 88 wins. To get there the Pirates will have go 14-9 to 16-7. That isn't impossible to imagine. All it takes is for a 3-4 core players to get hot and to carry the team. Like many others on this site, I don't necessarily expect the Pirates to make the postseason, but as Charlie posted, the math says they're still in it, and they are. So, while they are in it, I plan on continuing to enjoy the heck out of #MeaningfulSeptemberBaseball.

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Consider following me on Twitter @DavidManel and Bucsdugout.com @Bucsdugout.

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