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2022 Record: 62-100
Fourth Place, NL Central
Team ERA: 4.66 (26th in MLB)
Team OPS: .655 (28th in MLB)
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Looking to turn the tide on another wearying rebuild, the Pirates achieved a one-win improvement over their 101-loss result in 2021 and posted their best winning percentage (.383) since 2019. They went 12-7 in their season series against the Reds to earn the last-place tiebreaker and avoid what would have been a fourth straight bottom-of-the-barrel finish in the National League Central standings. Oneil Cruz arrived in June and flashed the kind of skillset befitting of his top prospect pedigree. Bryan Reynolds stuck around and slugged a career-high 27 home runs while leading all Pirates hitters in OPS with a mark of .806. José Quintana delivered a 3.50 ERA in 20 starts while becoming an attractive trade chip in the leadup to the August 2 deadline. Johan Oviedo, acquired from the Cardinals in exchange for Quintana, worked to a 3.23 ERA with 28 strikeouts in 30 2/3 innings (seven starts) down the stretch in Pittsburgh. Roansy Contreras had a 3.79 ERA with 85 strikeouts in 95 innings, and Luis Ortiz was impressive in his first three major league starts before a final-weekend blowup at St. Louis. David Bednar recorded a team-high 19 saves alongside a 2.61 ERA and 12.0 K/9.
WHAT WENT WRONG
Despite hints of a brighter future, the Pirates did lose 100 games for the second consecutive season. In the 141-year history of this organization, there has been only one other stretch (1952-1954) of consecutive 100-loss campaigns. Ke'Bryan Hayes was signed to a franchise-record eight-year, $70 million contract extension on Opening Day before smacking only seven home runs in 560 plate appearances. The aforementioned Bednar missed all of August and most of September because of a lower back injury and the Pirates' bullpen as a whole had the second-worst ERA (4.72) of all 30 major league clubs, better only than the Rockies. The rotation carousel featured 15 different starting pitchers. Mitch Keller showed progress from a run prevention standpoint but finished with a 7.8 K/9, down from an 8.2 K/9 in 2021. Pittsburgh's offense produced only 591 runs, the fourth-lowest total in MLB. The combined slash line from the DH spot -- pre-and-post Daniel Vogelbach -- was .216/.308/.369. The production from first base was even worse at .206/.264/.337. Bob Nutting is still the owner, and manager Derek Shelton has a .370 winning percentage (142-242) after three years on the job.
** Cruz teamed up with Diego Castillo and Jack Suwinski to give the Pirates three different rookies with 10-plus homers for the first time in franchise history. Castillo and Suwinski are probably going to be depth-type players moving forward, but Cruz has the look of a long-term superstar with his pop and wheels. He ranked in the 100th percentile of all MLB hitters in max exit velocity, 91st percentile in average exit velocity, 96th percentile in barrel rate, and 98th percentile in sprint speed. Granted, he was also fourth percentile in whiff percentage and 17th percentile in expected batting average. If he can cut out some of the swing-and-miss, the sky is the limit for what Cruz can be. The 24-year-old shortstop registered an .889 OPS across his final 145 plate appearances and had 17 homers and 11 stolen bases in 87 total games. He seems certain to be a top-100 selection in all standard fantasy drafts for 2023.
** There was a lot of hype around Hayes when he initially arrived in the majors in 2020. He slashed .376/.442/.682 over his first 95 major league plate appearances that year and went quite early in fantasy drafts the following spring. But he hurt his wrist in the opening weekend of the 2021 campaign and didn't offer much production when healthy. Hayes then battled a lingering back injury throughout much of 2022 and hit just .244/.314/.345 in 136 games. He did tally 20 stolen bases and should be able to discover a little power at some point, but the 25-year-old third baseman is now more of a wait-and-see type. Hayes was 64th percentile in sprint speed this season, so the steals might not be all that bankable in the short term and long term.
** Reynolds was by far the highest-drafted Pirates player with an ADP of 93 on Yahoo. Hayes was the second-highest at a Yahoo ADP of 177. Given the significant draft-day investment, it's fair to call Reynolds a disappointment even though he did approach 30 homers. He dropped from a .302/.390/.522 slash line with 90 RBI and 93 runs scored over 159 games in 2021 to a .262/.345/.461 line with 62 RBI and 74 runs in 145 games this season. A trade into a better supporting cast would surely boost his profile, but word is the Bucs plan to keep the 27-year-old outfielder, possibly with a new long-term extension. As it stands right now, Reynolds is under club control though 2025.
** Not a single Pirates starting pitcher went off the board in standard fantasy drafts this spring, but that could change next year with the emergence of Contreras, Ortiz, and possibly even Oviedo. Contreras needs to rein in his command, but he missed a lot of bats in the minors and had a 10-strikeout game at Yankee Stadium in the final month of the 2022 regular season. Ortiz allowed just one hit over 5 2/3 scoreless innings in his MLB debut on September 13 against the Reds and can touch the triple digits with his fastball. The 23-year-old also has a pretty wicked slider. Again, hints of a brighter future.
** Keller could be of late-round interest as well. He made changes to his arsenal this summer, most notably adding a two-seam sinker, and went on to post a 2.06 ERA over his final six starts covering 35 innings. The 26-year-old right-hander had a 6.62 ERA in April and a 5.19 ERA in May before cruising to a 3.09 ERA after the All-Star break. The looming question is whether Keller can add strikeouts on top of this revised pitch-to-soft-contact approach. He put up a 12.2 K/9 as a rookie in 2019, but that came alongside a 7.13 ERA.
** The lone All-Star representative on this roster, Bednar was one shy of becoming the first Pirates closer since 2019 to reach 20 saves. Had that back injury not derailed him, he could have even flirted with 25-30 saves. The 28-year-old right-hander boasts a 2.40 ERA with 146 strikeouts in 112 1/3 innings since he was acquired from the Padres in January 2021 as part of the Joe Musgrove trade. But it's anyone's guess whether he will still be wearing the black and yellow come 2023. Non-contenders usually flip relievers for young talent.
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Key Free Agents: Roberto Pérez, Ben Gamel
Team Needs: Patience? So many areas of this roster are in need of upgrading, but the Pirates do have a strong youth movement underway and figure to rely on internal improvement. Henry Davis, Liover Peguero, Quinn Priester, Nick Gonzales, and Endy Rodriguez are all about ready to graduate. Adding a veteran starting pitcher in the Quintana mold would make sense, and the 1B/DH market is almost always plentiful with intriguing options in this era of the sport.