By Jason Shetler
2015 made for a very exciting season for the Pirates as they won 98 games, their most since 1991. Unfortunately, they were eliminated in the National League Wild Card Game for a second straight year. Let’s take a look back at the year that was.
What went right?: The Pirates received solid production again from Andrew McCutchen and Starling Marte. After struggling mightily in the first half of the season, Gregory Polanco performed better in the second half, as he hit .276 with a .749 OPS. Marte and Polanco displayed their strong arms combining for 29 outfield assists.
What went wrong?: The Pirates really didn’t have a consistent fourth outfielder all season. Jose Tabata underperformed once again while midseason waiver claim Travis Ishikawa didn’t do much in games he started in left field.
What went right?: Pedro Alvarez had a bounce back season offensively while leading the Pirates with 27 home runs. Jung-Ho Kang made an impact in his first season in Pittsburgh, hitting .287 along with an .816 OPS while playing both third base and shortstop.
What went wrong?: The Pedro Alvarez first base experiment was a major fail, as he committed 23 errors, the most by a Pirates first baseman since Kevin Young in 1999. Jordy Mercer had a disappointing season at the plate, posting just a .613 OPS. Sadly, Jung-Ho Kang suffered a leg injury due to a hard slide from Cubs outfielder Chris Coghlan. The injury effectively ended his season, and was a huge blow to the Pirates down the stretch.
What went right?: Francisco Cervelli had a terrific year offensively, as he put up a .370 on base percentage, good for second best among NL backstops. Chris Stewart had himself a nice season with the bat compiling a .289 average.
What went wrong?: Cervelli and Stewart didn’t stop the running game much, posting caught stealing rates of 22% and 24% respectively (league average 28%).
What went right?: Gerrit Cole had a breakout season in 2015, putting up a 2.60 ERA, which was fifth lowest in the NL. He also struckout 202 batters and became the fourth pitcher in Pirates history with at least 200 strikeouts in a season. Francisco Liriano had another solid year with the Bucs, putting up a 3.38 ERA. Liriano racked up 205 strikeouts, as he and Cole are the first two teammates in franchise history to strike 200 batters in the same year. A.J. Burnett pitched well in his final Major League season with a 3.18 ERA. Trade deadline pickup J.A. Happ put up spectacular numbers, as he posted a 1.85 ERA along with a 1.03 WHIP.
What went wrong?: After pitching decent in the first half, Charlie Morton struggled post All-Star break with a 5.26 ERA. Jeff Locke’s second half struggles continued once again, posting a 4.66 ERA and a 1.49 WHIP.
What went right?: Mark Melancon was fantastic in his first full season as the Pirates closer while converting a big league best 51 saves. Tony Watson and Jared Hughes were strong again as the workhorses in the pen. After scuffling for much of the first half, Antonio Bastardo was solid for them the final two months of the season. Arquimedes Caminero provided the Bucs with a power arm, putting up an 8.8 K/9 while his average fastball velocity was registered at 97.8 mph. Joakim Soria and Joe Blanton were terrific additions, as Soria posted a 2.03 ERA while Blanton had a 1.57 ERA.
What went wrong?: Although Radhames Liz was a hard-thrower, his command was erratic and he allowed too many baserunners, whiçh led to a very high 1.63 WHIP. After performing well in the Pirates rotation last year, Vance Worley was moved to the bullpen this season to pitch long relief, but was inconsistent for the most part.
Before the season, I predicted that the Pirates would finish second behind the St. Louis Cardinals in the NL Central and would have to settle for the Wild Card Game again. My win total for the Pirates was at 91, so they were able to win seven more games than the win projection I had for them. Despite another early exit from the postseason, the 2015 Pirates season should be considered a successful one.