By Jason Shetler
With the regular season now in the books, here are the Top 10 Pirates of 2014.
10. Tony Watson – After an impressive 2013 season, Watson was even better this year. He became the Pirates setup man midseason when Jason Grilli struggled and Mark Melancon took over the closers role. Watson posted a 1.63 ERA along with a 1.02 WHIP in 78 appearances, which was tied for second most in the Majors. He also made some history this season, becoming the first Pirates left-handed reliever to be named an All-Star.
9. Mark Melancon – The season that Melancon had last year was extremely impressive, and he was able to build off that success this season. The 29-year-old right-hander took over as the Pirates closer in June where he converted 33 saves in 37 chances while posting a 1.90 ERA, an 0.87 WHIP and a 57% groundball rate.
8. Gerrit Cole – After a good rookie showing in 2013, Cole entered 2014 in his first full season in the Pirates rotation. Despite two separate stints on the DL with shoulder fatigue and soreness in his lat muscle, Cole put up a 3.65 ERA, a 1.21 WHIP and a 9.0 K/9 in 22 starts while posting a 2.1 WAR.
7. Francisco Liriano – With A.J. Burnett signing on with the Philadelphia Phillies this year, Liriano took over as the veteran ace of the staff for the Bucs. The 2013 National League Comeback Player of the Year struggled in the first half where he put up a 4.72 ERA while also dealing with a left oblique strain. His second half was significantly better, as he posted a 2.20 ERA. Overall, Liriano had a 3.38 ERA with a 1.6 WAR in 29 starts while posting a 9.7 K/9, his best ratio since 2006.
6. Starling Marte – Fresh off signing a long term extension a week before Spring Training, Marte struggled mightily in April, so much so that he was removed from the leadoff spot in May. He performed better that month, but dealt with a concussion in June. After coming back from the injury, Marte posted a .975 OPS in the second half. In 135 games, he batted .291 with an .809 OPS, stole 30 bases and posted a 4.0 WAR. Marte wasn’t as good defensively as last season, but he was still an above average defender with a 5.1 UZR/150.
5. Edinson Volquez – For a signing that was widely criticized with fans and media, Volquez ended up being the Pirates most consistent starter in 2014. In 31 starts, Volquez posted a 3.04 ERA along with a 1.23 WHIP and a 2.4 WAR. His ERA was the lowest by a Pirates right-hander with at least 30 starts since Doug Drabek in 1990. Volquez also put up a career best 3.3 BB/9, this after posting a 4.3 BB/9 prior to joining the Pirates.
4. Neil Walker – 2014 was a career year for Walker, as he posted an .809 OPS in 137 games played. He hit 23 home runs, surpassing Bill Mazeroski’s franchise mark for a second baseman. Prior to this season, Walker hadn’t done much against left-handed pitching, and there were talks about the Pirates possibly having him give up switch-hitting. He was able to silence the critics by hitting .280 while putting up a .353 on base vs southpaws.
3. Josh Harrison – Not since Freddy Sanchez in 2006 has a Pirates player had a breakout season quite like the one Josh Harrison had this year. Harrison began the season as a utility man, and began to start getting regular playing time in both right field and third base. In total, he played in 143 games, as he hit .315 along with an .837 OPS, 18 stolen bases, a 4.8 WAR and received a well deserved trip to the All-Star Game. Defensively, he was good overall, posting a 16.1 UZR/150 in right field and a 7.0 UZR/150 at third base. Harrison finished runner-up for the National League batting crown, as he lost out to former Pirate Justin Morneau.
2. Russell Martin – Martin was a vital part of the Pirates success in 2013, and it’s really no surprise that he was again in 2014. Although he suffered a hamstring injury in late April, it didn’t slow him down at all. Martin batted .290 while posting an .832 OPS and had a 5.2 WAR in 111 games. He put up a .402 on base, becoming the first Pirates catcher since Jason Kendall in 2000 to have an OBP of .400 or better. Behind the plate, Martin was solid once again, as he threw out 39% of runners, 11% above the league average.
1. Andrew McCutchen – The 2013 National League MVP picked up where he left off this season. In 146 games played, McCutchen hit .314 to go along with an NL best .952 OPS. He also posted an on base of .400 or higher (.410) for the third straight season, and had a 6.9 WAR, all this despite playing through a sore rib down the stretch. McCutchen went to his fourth consecutive All-Star Game this year, as he became the first Pirates center fielder to be named an All-Star four times. Should McCutchen win the NL MVP again, he would be the first Pirate to do so in back-to-back seasons.