Far from finished: Pirates 2012 report card

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One by one during the past couple of weeks, players entered manager Clint Hurdle's office for their exit interview.

There, they discuss necessary improvements in their game or approach and how -- or if -- they fit into the franchise's plans.

Hurdle's own exit interview lacked the importance but not the significance. At least not for him. It took place in a Starbucks, he joked, where a gentleman spoke to him for 10 minutes about the Pirates' second half.

"I think he used the word 'collapse,' " Hurdle said. "I said, 'Well, that's fair.' "

As Hurdle spoke with the man, the tone of the exchange changed.

"Then it was, what about A.J., what about McCutchen," Hurdle said.

"It was just very honest. Disappointment, yes. Basically the major reason for the disappointment was because the expectations have changed."

The Pirates' 2012 season elicits a range of emotions. They finished the season 79-83. Viewed through one prism: Seven wins better than last season, the second consecutive year with a higher win total. Through another: They were 16 games over .500 two-thirds of the way through the season yet failed to finish above .500 for the 20th consecutive year.

The grades below are based on the entire season and take into account the Pirates' rankings compared with the rest of the National League and Major League Baseball.

Offense: C

The Pirates scored 4.02 runs per game, which tied for 10th out of 16 NL teams. They finished fourth in the league with 170 home runs, a drastic improvement from last season, but finished near the bottom of the league in on-base percentage and batting average.

They rebounded well from their historically bad first two months of the season to produce a .329 on-base percentage in June and a .321 mark in July.

"We were really bad for a while, and we were really good for a while," Neil Walker said. "That's one of the biggest keys in baseball, is being consistent throughout the entire year."

Defense: C+

The Pirates played solid to above-average defense for most of the season, but their inability to prevent stolen bases dropped them a letter grade.

The team ranked 11th in the major leagues in ultimate zone rating, a defensive metric that attempts to measure how many runs a defensive player or unit saved or allowed.

"Guys are always out there early, taking ground balls and working on things," Garrett Jones said. "It's something we take a lot of pride in."

Clint Barmes ranked seventh among qualified players in individual UZR.

Pirates catchers threw out 11 percent of runners who attempted to steal, by far the worst mark in MLB.

Starting pitching: C+

The Pirates received stellar first halves from A.J. Burnett and James McDonald, and Wandy Rodriguez pitched well in the final month and a half. Because of McDonald's second-half slump, Jeff Karstens' injury and Erik Bedard's ineffectiveness before his release, the staff declined as the summer progressed.

The starters finished with a 4.21 ERA, which ranked 11th in the NL. The staff as a whole allowed 4.16 runs per game, good for seventh in the league.

"These were guys who have been around and have played the game for a while," Rod Barajas said. "They know how to pitch."

Relievers: B

The Pirates had one of the best bullpens in baseball for two-thirds of the season, but the unit's effectiveness tailed off in late August and September. The bullpen finished with a 3.36 ERA and struck out 8.4 batters per nine innings, led by Joel Hanrahan and Jason Grilli.

"I keep sounding like a broken record, but myself and Hanrahan get a lot of the spotlight and glory," Grilli said. "You look at [Chris] Resop, you look at [Jared] Hughes and [Tony] Watson and everybody that's filled in in the middle. They've had a lot less margin of error when they have to come in with inherited runners."

The Pirates relievers stranded 76.6 percent of their runners and had a .229 batting average against.

Coaching staff: D

The Pirates emphasized the concept of finishing as early as spring training, yet had a 20-39 record after Aug. 1 and finished under .500 after working their way to 16 games over .500 in early August.

The staff deserves some credit for the first-half improvement of McDonald and the production from Jones and Pedro Alvarez. Late-season bullpen management and occasional poor baserunning reflected poorly on the staff.

"Some things pleased me this year," Hurdle said when reflecting on the season as a whole. "[But] I'm not satisfied by any means."

Front office: C

General manager Neal Huntington focused on years of control at the trade deadline. He acquired Travis Snider and Gaby Sanchez, promising players under contractual control, along with Rodriguez, a proven lefty under contract for 2013. The Pirates did not trade for a game-changing hitter while in a fight for the pennant race.

Free-agent acquisitions Bedard and Nate McLouth are no longer with the organization, and Barajas struggled at the plate. Barmes had offensive trouble in the first half but improved in the second.

"We're going to evaluate everything, but there's going to be a more intense focus on the last two months, the last seven weeks, the last 50-some games of baseball where it unraveled for us," Huntington said. "We've got to determine why it unraveled and then, most importantly, how to put ourselves in a position to finish strong next year, to put ourselves ... in the playoffs next year."



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