The most consistent thing about the Pirates in 2023 was their inconsistency. They went from going 20-8 in April to looking completely lost in May-July. After the trade deadline, they suddenly looked about average. They went from looking great one series to looking like hot garbage the next. They gave up 9 runs in 3 innings and then won 13-12. The fact that they looked good occasionally was encouraging but when they were bad, it was pretty damned deflating.
Catcher: Austin Hedges and his love of fat bottom girls got shipped out to Texas in favor of Endy Rodriguez. Endy is not a superstar but he’s a helluva lot more fun to watch than Hedges. So I give Hedges an F and Endy a B. Delay is me in high school, a C.
1B: Carlos Santana and Ji Man Choi held down 1B until July. Then it became Conner Joe’s, Miguel Andujar’s and Alfonso Rivas’s domain. The Pirates continue to have an issue of not having a long term 1B since Willie Stargell retired. Ya know, over 40 years ago now.
2B: With this position being manned by a bunch of guys from Rodolfo Castro to Ji-Hwan Bae to Nick Gonzales, a pretty clear answer arrived for the Pirates and it was Jared Triolo. The guy can hit a little and played excellent 3B but the Pirates already have Ke’Bryan Hayes at 3B. The clear cut answer to me is to move him over to 2B for 2024, with that you got ¾ of a decent IF.
SS: With the injury to O’Neil Cruz less than a week in to the season, this position was played by a bunch of guys we probably won’t remember in a few years. The important thing is seeing if he will recover all the way when the Pirates go to Spring Training in 4 months.
3B: Ke’Bryan Hayes and Jared Triolo. Since I started following the Pirates in the late 80’s it seemed like the Pirates could produce 3B who were more known for hitting the ball rather than fielding the ball. The two biggest names in that regard were Aramis Ramirez and Pedro Alvarez. They kicked the tires on David Freese in 2016-17 and then let Column Moran try to play 3B in 2018-20. Hayes came along in 2020 and is clearly the main 3B going forward. The plan for 2024 should be Hayes at 3B with Triolo playing 2B and 3B on Hayes rest days.
OF: Bryan Reynolds signed a long term contract and had the worst full season of his career thus far. Jack Suwinski continues to be a poor man’s Kyle Schwarber. A Kyle Schwarber who is better at base running and can play an actual position in the field. Conner Joe, Henry Davis, Joshua Palacios and some other warm bodies filled out the outfield.
DH: With an early injury to Choi, Andrew McCutchen took over the DH role full time, only playing in 8 games in RF. He’s not the player he used to be but he’s the last remaining connection to the most recent playoff team in Pittsburgh. With an injury late in the season, a bunch of guys took over the DH role.
SP: The two best starters this year were Mitch Keller and Johan Oviedo. Rich Hill ate innings but wasn’t the pitcher he used to be. Luis Ortiz was just ok. Vince Velasquez was pretty good (for him) but had Tommy John surgery in May after just 8 starts. Andre Jackson came over from the Dodgers and pitched decently (he probably would have been better than Lance Lynn in game 3 against Arizona). Bailey Falter and Osvaldo Bido were close to unwatchable. 2019 first round pick Quinn Priester came up and continued to make Neal Huntington look bad. The biggest disappointment this year was Roansy Contreras who looked bad as a starter and looked bad as a relief pitcher. They will try to make him a bounce back player next year but I have a gut feeling he just isn’t that good.
RP: David Bednar was the bullpen, if they got to him with a lead, it was pretty much in the bag. Dauri Moreta, Colin Holderman, Yohan Ramirez and Jose Hernandez all looked excellent early on but came back down to earth. Ryan Borucki was a nice mid season pick up, Carmen Mlodzinski came up and was good in the pen. Yerry De Los Santos was ok too. The Pirates had a bunch of other bullpen guys who would be doing well to make a AA roster or my cousin’s company softball team.
Manager and Coaching staff: Too many mistakes for Shelton to stick around. Almost every day this past season you could make a YouTube video about the dumb decision that Derek Shelton made the day before. So of course he’ll be back for 2024. The hitting and pitching coaches could use a change but they won’t be changed. So yeah, if a team falters early on, I could see a normal organization making changes, but these are the Pirates. Long after it became clear that Huntington and Hurdle needed to be shipped out, they were still around making messes. Long after it became clear that John Russell might as well be a statue outside the stadium, the Pirates kept him for 3 years. Under Nutting they are less aggressive about replacing people than they should be. Obviously they see the Steelers keeping Matt Canada around and say "hold my beer"…
General Manager and Front Office: Well, the Pirates did just have their best season since 2018. They were 9 wins away from making the playoffs. After 4 seasons of Ben Cherington, I suppose that they could do a lot worse than 76-86. The 4th year of Neal Huntington in 2011 resulted in a 72-90 team. The 4th year of Dave Littlefield was 2005 and they were 67-95. It just doesn’t feel that great though, the pitching staff has some major question marks going forward, the position players don’t seem good enough to carry a team like the 2013-15 core of position players did, they seem overly reluctant to make changes to the coaching staff and so far both Nick Gonzalez and Henry Davis don’t seem like the kind of star players the Pirates need going forward. Everyone should be on the hot seat. But that’s not what we are hearing from the press about this organization.
Owner: Bob Nutting is probably not as evil as everyone says he is, but he isn’t doing a great job. He doesn’t seem capable of hiring the kind of front office that they have in Tampa Bay. Cherington was a name GM who had MLB experience but not small market experience. Instead of bringing in someone from Oakland or Tampa Bay, they brought in a Red Sox and Blue Jays guy. After 17 years as the main owner and face of the ownership group, it’s clear that he’s a marginal upgrade over Kevin McClatchy.
The rest of the NL Central: The Brewers ran away with the division title and then got swept by the Diamondbacks. And that’s all this division saw in the playoffs. The Brewers have quietly been one of the best teams in baseball the last 6 seasons, making the playoff five times and winning 3 division titles. The Cubs used their winning record against the Pirates to propel them to a 83-79 record and 2nd place. The Reds, much like the Pirates, had a hot streak that put them in the spotlight and then they crashed back down to earth. And then the Cardinals. Adam Wainwright came back for one last season and it was so bad that he wouldn’t have cracked the Pirates roster. Wilson Contreras and Paul Goldschmidt were both good. Nolan Aernado had a bad year for him, outside the 2020 partial season, he had the worst season of his career. The starting pitching staff was a mess. They started the year as contenders and finished the year looking like they need an overhaul. So they’ll probably win the division next year.
Worst Game of the year: June 22. The Pirates got two one run homers from Henry Davis and Ke’Bryan Hayes in the top of the 8th inning, taking a 4-1 lead in to the bottom of the 8th inning in Miami. Dauri Moreta came in and in 15 pitches, gave up a double, a walk and a single to load the bases. Unable to get an out, the Pirates went to Carmen Mlodzinski. On one pitch, he gave up a 2 run single that was just out of reach of the shortstop. 2 pitches later he got a ground out. The next pitch was a 3 run bomb by Garrett Cooper that gave the Marlins a 6-4 lead and in the top of the 9th, the Pirates reached on an E6 but otherwise were 3 quick outs.
Best Game of the year: September 23. I mean, how can I not pick the game where they come back from being down 9-0 and won 13-12? Even better, September 23 was Jim Rooker’s 81st birthday. It seemed like it was meant to be. I wonder if he muttered under his breath when the Pirates went down 9-0 "If the Pirates win this game, I’ll walk to Pittsburgh."
Commissioner: This F***ing guy. The pitch clock was a good idea, no more 4 and a half hour long 9 inning games. The rules about relievers and the extra inning ghost runners are so stupid. I mean most of the extra inning games before 2020 already ended before the 13th inning. I would have ditched the ghost runner until the 13th inning because then we would hardly ever see the darn thing. But Manfred gotta Manfred. He keeps sitting on his hands about regional black outs. Considering that I have found articles online from 2007 about MLB needing to fix the black out issues, here we are almost 20 years later and the problem is still there for some inexplicable reason and both Selig and Manfred are doing nothing. I guess if the owners are happy and making money it doesn’t really matter.
Overall 2023 Grade: C-. When it was good, it was kind of cool. When it sucked, it was borderline unwatchable. I said 72 wins and they got 76. But still feels like they should have won at least 82 after that 20-8 start.