By Jason Shetler
For the first time since 2012, the Pirates failed to reach the postseason. Now that the 2016 season for the Bucs has concluded, here is a look back from the year that was.
What went right?: Starling Marte had another solid all-around season and was named an All-Star for the first time. Gregory Polanco was able to figure things out and had a good season. Matt Joyce provided major contributions as the fourth outfielder.
What went wrong?: Andrew McCutchen’s 2016 season was certainly quite a surprise, as he not only was unable to put up MVP type numbers, but didn’t even perform at an All-Star level.
What went right?: Aside from a rough July, Jung-Ho Kang was able to bounce back miraculously from the leg injury he suffered last year. David Freese had himself a good year, and was outstanding versus lefty pitchers. Sean Rodriguez drastically improved his offense to help out off the bench. Josh Bell and Adam Frazier each performed very well in their rookie seasons.
What went wrong?: Although Josh Harrison gave the Pirates an upgrade defensively at second base over Neil Walker, his offensive figures were below league average for the second year in a row, as he posted just a .699 OPS along with an OPS+ of 85.
What went right?: After posting a .370 on base percentage in his first season with the Pirates last year, Francisco Cervelli was an on base threat again this season, as he put up a .377 OBP.
What went wrong?: The injury bug was a problem for the Pirates and their catchers in 2016. Francisco Cervelli sustained an injury to his hamate bone and was on the DL for a month, Chris Stewart dealt with knee problems and Elias Diaz missed the beginning of the year recovering from elbow surgery. During the season, the Pirates brought in different backstops, as they traded for Erik Kratz, claimed Eric Fryer off waivers from the St. Louis Cardinals and even brought up an organizational backstop in Jacob Stallings.
What went right?: Jameson Taillon made his long awaited arrival to Pittsburgh this year, and had a superb rookie campaign. Fellow rookie Chad Kuhl also did some nice work in the rotation. Ivan Nova was acquired from the New York Yankees at the trade deadline, putting up terrific numbers once he joined the Pirates.
What went wrong?: The Pirates rotation definitely had their fair share of inconsistencies in 2016. Gerrit Cole had an injury plagued season, Francisco Liriano struggled, Jon Niese was demoted to the bullpen before getting shipped back to the New York Mets at the trade deadline and Jeff Locke was mediocre again.
What went right?: Mark Melancon was stellar once again as the Pirates closer. Because of his very high trade value, and being a free agent after the season, Melancon got dealt to the Washington Nationals a couple days before the trade deadline for Felipe Rivero and pitcher Taylor Hearn. Rivero performed extremely well in the Pirates bullpen. Antonio Bastardo returned to Pittsburgh after being acquired from the Mets in a swap for Jon Niese at the deadline. Bastardo provided some good work. Juan Nicasio was outstanding, once he was moved into the bullpen, while Neftali Feliz was above average for the most part.
What went wrong?: Just like the rotation, the Pirates had some issues in the bullpen as well. The biggest disappointment had to be Jared Hughes. After being a very reliable groundball machine the past few seasons, Hughes didn’t have as many positive outings this year. Tony Watson didn’t pitch terribly, but he wasn’t great either. Following the Melancon trade, Watson was inserted as the closer, and there was some ineffectiveness. Cory Luebke experienced major struggles, while Kyle Lobstein wasn’t anything spectacular.
The 2016 season for the Pirates was no doubt disappointing. Although there were some injuries, there were a good amount of players who underperformed, most notably Andrew McCutchen, Francisco Liriano, Jared Hughes and Tony Watson. Before the season, I predicted that the Pirates weren’t as good as last year and wouldn’t make the postseason. However, I had them winning 85 games, because I felt that a pretty good team was still in place, and that the rookies who were going to help out. Even with the positive contributions from Jameson Taillon, Josh Bell, Adam Frazier and Chad Kuhl, it still wasn’t enough to overcome the inconsistencies of a 78 win club. Hopefully this season was just a one year setback, and that the Pirates will be more serious contenders in 2017.