By Jason Shetler
After reaching the postseason the last three years consecutively, the Pirates not only didn’t make the playoffs this season, but they also failed to finish above the .500 mark. Here now is a countdown of the Top 10 Pirates from 2016.
10. David Freese: Heading into Spring Training this year, David Freese was without a home. Knowing that Jung-Ho Kang wouldn’t be ready by Opening Day, the Pirates signed Freese to serve as an insurance policy at third base. For the season, Freese posted a .352 on base percentage. He really did some damage against lefty pitching, as he put up a .963 OPS. Freese and the Pirates agreed to terms on a two-year extension in August.
9. Andrew McCutchen: After being named to five consecutive All-Star teams from 2011 to 2015, Andrew McCutchen had a down year by his standards. The former NL MVP was subpar in the first half with a .247 average and a .745 OPS. He resembled the McCutchen of old in August and September, posting an OPS of .854. The home run power remained, as he hit 24 of them, which were third most among NL center fielders. Although the overall numbers weren’t MVP level for McCutchen, he actually had a pretty decent season.
8. Ivan Nova: Following the success of J.A. Happ with the Pirates in 2015, the Bucs decided to buy low on a starting pitcher at the trade deadline for the second year in a row. Ivan Nova was acquired from the New York Yankees in exchange for pitcher Stephen Tarpley and outfielder Tito Polo. Nova was outstanding with the Pirates, as he posted a 3.06 ERA along with an ERA+ of 137 and a 2.62 Fielding Independent Pitching.
7. Jameson Taillon: While Jameson Taillon’s path to the big leagues took longer than he wanted it to, he made up for it with a terrific rookie campaign in 2016. In 18 starts for the Pirates, he had a 3.38 ERA with a 124 ERA+. Taillon demonstrated pinpoint control, as his 1.5 BB/9 was the best ratio among NL rookie starters with a minimum of 100 innings.
6. Mark Melancon: Over the past few years, Mark Melancon had been one of the better relievers in all of baseball, and 2016 was no exception. While the Pirates bullpen struggled in the first half, Melancon remained a bright spot, posting an ERA of 1.51 with a 0.96 WHIP in 45 appearances. His All-Star selection this year made him the first Pirates reliever since Elroy Face to be named to three All-Star teams. A couple days before the trade deadline, Melancon was dealt to the Washington Nationals for Felipe Rivero and pitching prospect Taylor Hearn.
5. Sean Rodriguez: When the Pirates brought back Sean Rodriguez last offseason, the move was widely criticized by the fan base, because despite playing solid defense at multiple positions, he was very anemic offensively. Rodriguez not only became a key contributor to help create a solid bench, but he had the best season of his big league career this year, posting an OPS of .859, while hitting a career high 18 home runs.
4. Matt Joyce: Perhaps arguably the best bargain signing of any team last offseason was the Pirates inking Matt Joyce to a minor league deal. He provided solid offense as the fourth outfielder, as he put up an .866 OPS along with a 131 OPS+. Joyce was also exceptional as a pinch-hitter with an .873 OPS in that role.
3. Gregory Polanco: With the expectation of being a former top prospect, Gregory Polanco needed to show that he could be productive for an entire Major League season, and he was able to do just that in 2016. Polanco posted an OPS of .786 with 34 doubles and 22 home runs. Even with the added muscle to his frame, it didn’t affect the speed, as he stole 17 bases. Defensively, Polanco’s throwing arm was on display with 10 outfield assists.
2. Jung-Ho Kang: After sustaining a very gruesome leg injury in September of last year, many fans and media alike wondered if Jung-Ho Kang would be able to play at the same level of his fantastic rookie season once he returned this year. Kang made his season debut for the Pirates in May, and provided some instant impact, hitting five homers in his first ten games. Despite being accused of sexual assault, having struggles in July and a brief DL stint in August, Kang put up impressive numbers, posting an .867 OPS with an OPS+ of 128 and 21 long balls.
1. Starling Marte: The recipient for best Pirates player of 2016 goes to Starling Marte. His all-around game this year remained outstanding, and it was good enough for him to be named an All-Star for the first time. At the plate, Marte batted .311, which was tops among NL left fielders, while having an .818 OPS. His phenomenal basestealing ability continued this season with a career best 47 stolen bases. Marte’s defense was at the forefront once again, as he posted an 11.4 UZR/150 along with 19 Defensive Runs Saved. Overall, he was just about a five-win player with a 4.9 WAR.