Final report card: Opening the grade book on the 2013 Pirates


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This Pirates season ended differently than others. It ended abruptly, with no preamble. No excitement about young players helping out next season, no hope for the future.

The playoffs will have that effect. Absent are the thoughts about when Jameson Taillon or Gregory Polanco might reach Pittsburgh, or what free agents the team might target. The Pirates won the winner-take-all wild-card game, then took the St. Louis Cardinals to Game 5 before they were eliminated.

"We definitely had an amazing year," Andrew McCutchen said. "A year to remember. A year that's going to go down in the books forever. Definitely happy to be a part of it."

Below, we grade the Pirates based on their performance this season and their ranking within the rest of the National League and Major League Baseball.

OFFENSE: C

The Pirates finished with a .313 on-base percentage, two points below the average mark for the NL. Most marks, including runs per game and batting average as well as more in-depth statistics, rated the Pirates as league-average or slightly below.

The National League Division Series showed the problems the Pirates offense created. They scored a combined two runs in 18 innings in Games 4 and 5.

"The last two games, they kept us off the plate," manager Clint Hurdle said.

McCutchen contributed to the offense with his ability to hit for average and power, hitting .317 with 21 home runs and 27 steals. Pedro Alvarez tied for the NL lead with 36 home runs, though he also led the league in strikeouts and had a .296 on-base percentage.

The Pirates struggled to receive solid production from first base and, until Marlon Byrd joined the team, right field.

DEFENSE: A

The Pirates ranked third in the majors with 70 defensive runs saved above average, according to Baseball Info Solutions. By comparison, the worst team in the majors, the Philadelphia Phillies, allowed 100 runs more than average. The Pirates also converted 69.8 percent of balls in play into outs, ranking tied for seventh in MLB.

Left fielder Starling Marte saved 22 runs above average and catcher Russell Martin, who had an exceptional year behind the plate throwing out runners and blocking pitches, saved 16. This all led to only 3.56 runs allowed per game, the second-lowest rate in the majors.

STARTING PITCHING: A

Because of injury and ineffectiveness, only two members of the opening-day rotation were still in it at the end of the season, and one of them -- A.J. Burnett -- missed a month because of injury, yet it compiled the fourth-lowest starting pitching ERA in the NL at 3.50.

The return of Charlie Morton from Tommy John surgery and the addition of Gerrit Cole helped, as did an All-Star-caliber first half from Jeff Locke before he faded in August and September. Cole started Game 5 of the NLDS instead of Burnett and allowed two runs in five innings. In Game 2, he allowed one run in six innings.

"The young man took another step forward, another experience that's going to put him in a better place down the road," Hurdle said.

RELIEF PITCHING: A

The bullpen had a 2.89 ERA, the second-lowest mark in the NL. They stranded 78.3 percent of runners on base and did their work throwing the second-highest number of innings in the NL.

Closer Jason Grilli and setup man Mark Melancon dominated opponents throughout the first half, but an injury to Grilli in late July and Melancon's ineffectiveness after Sept. 1 weakened the unit slightly. Left-hander Tony Watson had a strong second half of the season.

COACHING: B

Hurdle took the Pirates from 57 wins in 2010 to 72 in 2011, 79 in 2012 and 94 in 2013. He did not do it alone; he had help from an MVP-caliber season from McCutchen, a strong sophomore campaign from Marte and a great pitching staff.

Pitching coach Ray Searage continued to preside over a strong unit. The staff did a good job of monitoring Cole, who exceeded his innings total in the minors and instructional league in 2012 by about 30, and keeping him strong enough to make two postseason starts.

Under first-year hitting coach Jay Bell, the runs per game actually decreased slightly, and while their on-base percentage increased, the slugging percentage stayed almost the same. The strikeout total decreased, but only slightly.

"All we can do now is continue to work hard and work as a unit, as a team, and keep growing together," Alvarez said after the Game 5 loss.

FRONT OFFICE: B

Heading into last offseason, the Pirates identified catcher as the position most in need of an upgrade and targeted Martin for the role. Martin delivered, working well with the pitchers, playing great defense behind the plate and revolutionizing the way the Pirates handled opposing running games.

At the non-waiver trade deadline, the Pirates did not make a move despite being in perfect position to make a push. They cited the value of prospects teams were asking for as prohibitive. During the waiver period, though, they acquired Byrd and Justin Morneau to improve their production at right field and first base. Byrd had an .843 on-base plus slugging percentage with the Pirates, and while Morneau did not produce as expected, the acquisition was a good one.

"We felt we're at a little bit of an interesting point in the franchise's history," general manager Neal Huntington said after the Morneau trade. "These are not moves we want to make habits of. But we felt like this move allows us to get to October better."

Huntington and director of amateur scouting Joe DelliCarri signed all 11 draft picks in the top 10 rounds, including first-rounders Austin Meadows and Reese McGuire, ahead of the signing deadline so both high schoolers could make their professional debuts this summer.

The tenure and usage of Brandon Inge, Jose Contreras, John McDonald and Mike Zagurski did not correspond to their lack of production.

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First Published October 12, 2013 8:00 PM


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