The Pittsburgh Pirates finished the 2012 season four games below .500 (79-83) to extend their losing streak to 20 consecutive seasons. Those 79 wins tie the 1997 season for the best record during the losing streak.
“You look at the pitching rotation, the pitching overall has continued to evolve in a much better fashion,” Manager Clint Hurdle said on the positives of the season. “The starting rotation, the bullpen work that was done by those men this year. The fact that we were able to increase usable power offensively. I think that was a big part. I do think that when you get guys to buy in, some of the older guys that we got to come over and add. Our street creds picking up just by the conversations you have with opposing players now, managers, their perception.”
Despite the collapse and not “finishing”, there are some positives to take away from the season and some improvements along the way.
— Record: The Pirates showed a seven-game improvement from the 2011 season (72-90) and a 22-game improvement from 2010 (57-105). They also produced their best overall single season home record at PNC Park (45-36).
— Pitching: Pittsburgh ranked eighth among National League teams with a 3.86 ERA. The last time the Pirates pitching staff finished a season with an ERA below 4.00 was 1998 (3.91) and the last season in which the team ERA was lower than 3.90 was 1992 (3.35). The Pirates pitching staff established a club record with 1,192 strikeouts this season, breaking the previous mark of 1,124 set in 1969.
— Long Ball: The Pirates had three players – Andrew McCutchen (31), Pedro Alvarez (30) and Garrett Jones (27) – hit 25 or more home runs for just the second time in franchise history. In 1966, Willie Stargell (33), Roberto Clemente (29) and Donn Clendenon (28) all went deep at least 25 times for Pittsburgh. Alvarez and McCutchen hitting at least 30 long balls in a season was just the third time in club history the Pirates had two player blast 30 or more in the same season. Pittsburgh ranked fourth in the National League with 170 home runs hit this season, falling one shy of the club record of 171 hit in 1999. The Pirates led all N.L. clubs with 103 homers hit on the road in 2012.
— Andrew McCutchen: With 31 home runs and 20 stolen bases, Andrew McCutchen became just the fourth player in team history to reach those totals in one season. McCutchen led the National League with 194 hits, the first Pittsburgh player to do so since Andy Van Slyke in 1992 (199).
— A.J. Burnett: Resurrected his career from New York and became the leader in the clubhouse. He took several pitchers under his wing — James McDonald, Jeff Locke, Kyle McPherson — while becoming the first Pirates pitcher with 16 wins since 1991.
“Individually, the emergence of McCutchen,” Hurdle said. “[Neil] Walker was about ready to have his best breakout season. Alvarez became a factor. Jones had a bounce back season. [Joel] Hanrahan backed up another closing season with another closing season. The emergence of [Jason] Grilli in that eighth inning role. The development of [Jared] Hughes and [Tony] Watson. The consistency of [Chris] Resop. Probably had one of the toughest roles in the bullpen and handled it all season long. We had our men go post to post in the bullpen.”
However, if you look back at the Pirates in late July when they were 16 games over .500, playoffs were the big story and finishing .500 was a lock. But over their final six weeks, the team wasn’t able to click on all cylinders as they went 7-21 in the month of September. The Pirates lost their final game of the season 4-0 to Atlanta but did take two of the final three games. None of that makes up for the collapse, but perhaps more of a look what’s in store in the future.
“I could never try and brush over the last six weeks for the first four and a half months,” Hurdle said. “I think you need to look at them. You step back, what did we do well? How do we get more of it? Why did we do well? When things didn’t go well, why didn’t they go well? Where were the break downs? Is it all about consistent play and execution? To a large part it is. Things that we can improve upon, possibly coaching, different strategies, different preparations. I think some things can be looked at and modified and improved upon.”
“I believe we are heading in the right direction. Not happy with the finish at all…I just know there’s more to do. They’re unfinished business in front of us.”
“We’ve continued to demand a lot out of ourselves. We’ll continue to expect a lot out of ourselves. We are striving for excellence. We are not looking for external acceptance. I think that is something we will always revisit. We are really trying to continue to push the envelope and not only develop better ballplayers through repetition, drills, everything you can do in spring training and instructional throughout the season. But also grow up better men. And what a concept in today’s society that I think it works. And sometimes you can get push back from that. What’s there really to push back if you’re trying to grow up better men and try and grow up better athletes and players that the community is going to respect.”
The Pirates head into the offseason with a shopping list for next year. Among those things? Starting pitching, relievers, strengthening the bench, catching, could all be being looked at. The one battle for the club heading into the spring will be the corner outfield spot with four players (unless a trade, or sign is made) for the starting job. The other positions seemed to be pretty mapped out.
“There’s no secret that [Alex] Presley and [Jose] Tabata were challenged this season,” Hurdle said. “[Starling] Marte has come up and done what he’s done. I think we know we have a better idea of what we have for a Major Leaguer at this level and the areas of improvement. I think you have two outfield corners that are going to be open for competition going in. You have your mindset on how you’d like to see them.”
“McCutchen’s going to play center. [Clint] Barmes is going to play short. Alvarez is going to play third. Walker is going to play second. I’d like to think Jones going in has added value to find a spot, and [Michael] McKenry is going to be back. Those are things that you know right going in. So you’re talking about maybe two positions. And you’ve got four guys in-house right now that you’re going to look at in Marte and [Travis] Snider and Tabata and Presley for the outfield spot. That’s about as transparent and clean-cut as you’re going to get.”
Over the next week we will provide a breakdown of the players at each position this season, who could help in 2013, and some of the prospects in the system who could help in the future.