pittsburgh pirates

Why The Pittsburgh Pirates Hot Start is Real

For the second year in a row, the Pittsburgh Pirates are off to a scorching hot start and have gotten people asking if they are a legitimate contender. Despite flying to a 20-8 start in 2023, the Bucs showed that they weren’t quite ready to compete, finishing fourth in the NL Central with just 76 wins.

This year, though, things seem different. After a painful decade of rebuilds, producing a poor on-field product while watching talented veterans depart via trade, Pirates fans are finally ready to reap the rewards of a long rebuild and experience postseason baseball for the first time since 2015. Right now the Bucs are 10-5 with the fourth-best record in baseball, here’s why the Pirates’ hot start to 2024 is real and shows they are finally ready to win again.

Why The Pirates Will Be Contenders in 2024

Sneaky Additions Are Paying Off

One thing that has made the Pirates so good has been the production of their recent additions. They have made a point of acquiring former top prospects whose teams may have given up on them a little too fast and have found a way to turn their careers around. Players like catcher Joey Bart who never found a role for the San Francisco Giants and outfielder Edward Olivares who couldn’t break into the starting lineup for the Kansas City Royals have both found a new home in the Steel City. Veterans Rowdy Tellez, Michael Taylor, and  Connor Joe have also been very solid contributors in their new home at PNC Park.

All five of those players have produced above-average offense but Joe and Olivares are the real standouts with OPSs above .900 along with 152 and 157 wRC+s respectively. As well, Taylor has been a major addition as not only the best defensive player on the team but also the only above-average fielder so far this year. This isn’t luck either, except for Joe all of their results are worse than their expected metrics, especially Tellez who hits the ball as hard as anyone in the game should be significantly better than he is now. Tellez has always had immense potential and if the Bucs can unlock it he could be a valuable asset for years. That’s just the offensive side of the ball, several newcomers have also dramatically improved the pitching staff.

The most notable addition to the staff was veteran reliever and flamethrower Aroldis Chapman who at the age of 36 has turned back the clock with his triple-digit heat and signature stare to go with it. Additionally, three-fifths of the starting rotation was acquired in the last calendar year. Martin PerezMarco Gonzales, and Bailey Falter have all been very important pieces making key starts and carrying the load for the otherwise very young staff. While none of them are aces by any means, all three give the Bucs a chance to win in any game they take the mound, an invaluable asset for a team that has been looking for stability in the rotation for years. These sneaky additions have been integral to the Pirates’ success, but they are not alone in their efforts to bring postseason baseball back to western Pennsylvania.

The Young Core is Finally Healthy

Over the last several seasons it has been easy to see glimpses into what the future could be but the young guys finally seem to be putting it all together this year. After their first few years in the league have been riddled with injuries, it seems like Ke’Bryan Hayes and Oneil Cruz are both healthy and playing together consistently. Hayes is not only one of the game’s best defensive third basemen, he has a case to be the best defensive player in all of baseball. Despite missing 166 games since his debut in 2020 he ranks third amongst all players in MLB with a staggering 51 outs above average. The 2023 Gold Glove Award winner is also an elite baserunner and has refined his approach over the years to become a more dangerous hitter, his walk rate is way up, his strikeout rate is way down, and in 2023 he started to tap into some power. All in all, he could become one of the most complete players in baseball.

Cruz has always been recognized as a special talent across baseball, but he hasn’t been able to put up the crooked numbers many thought he could. After missing almost the entire 2023 season due to a broken leg in a freak play at the plate, the 6’7″ shortstop looks poised for a breakout season. Cruz tears the cover off the ball better than anyone but his high strikeout rate and poor plate discipline have capped his production. This isn’t even to mention the consistent presence of 29-year-old all-star Bryan Reynolds who has been the one bright spot on this team through years of futility. If Cruz and Hayes can stay healthy, they can join Reynolds in creating an excellent core at the top of this lineup that could take this offense to heights the Pirates haven’t seen in decades.

Young Depth Has Started to Take Shape

Those three aren’t the only impressive position players on this roster either, through years of drafting and development this organization has created some very solid young depth. Jared Triolo, the 26-year-old second baseman is entering his first full season in the big leagues and has tremendous upside as a good defender with good baserunning and a great approach at the plate. Triolo doesn’t hit for much power but his .275 average and impressive plate discipline make him a very tough out at the bottom of the order. As well, 25-year-old centerfielder Jack Suwinski has established himself as a legitimate power threat, slugging .454 and hitting 26 home runs in 2023. All three of these players are very good and have loads of potential, but despite the team’s success, they have not produced to nearly the level they should so far in 2024.

Additionally, don’t discount former first-overall pick Henry Davis who is entering his first season as the full-time catcher for this squad and has enormous potential. He is the rare speedy backstop, only four starters at this position are faster than him. The 24-year-old also has impressive plate discipline, sitting in the 87th percentile in chase rate and walk rate. If he can find a way to hit the ball hard with more consistency, he could become one of the best catchers in the league on both sides of the ball. If these three can support both the strong core and the new additions to this lineup, we could be looking at one of the deepest and most balanced offenses in Major League Baseball.

The Pitching is Better Than it Looks

The Pirates have quietly assembled a pretty solid starting rotation. In addition to the aforementioned veteran due of Perez and Gonzales, the Bucs brought in the 27-year-old Falter and have a few solid young arms as well. This all starts with 28-year-old ace Mitch Keller who is looking to build on an all-star season in 2023. While the results haven’t been there yet, he is still a very good pitcher with good stuff who can be effective against any lineup. Keller is joined by 22-year-old rookie Jared Jones who has already shown that he has some of the most effective stuff in all of baseball. His fastball averages 97mph with elite extension and he is in the 90th percentile or better in chase rate, whiff rate, strikeout rate, and walk rate. That is truly ace-level stuff.

If that isn’t enough, they also have an MLB-caliber pitcher in Triple-A named Paul Skenes. Skenes is one of the top prospects in all of baseball and has some of the most electric stuff of any player at any level. He could easily be called up today and make a huge impact but until then, Pirates fans will be left to wait on a player who looks like he’s going to be one of the best in the game. The 2023 first-overall pick has impressed even more than anyone thought he would and is one of the most anticipated pitching debuts in recent memory. Not only will these three young arms help this team win in 2024, they will be the backbone of whatever this team accomplishes for the next several seasons.

The Pittsburgh Pirates are a young team on the rise and while they may have arrived ahead of schedule, they are here nonetheless. The years of being cellar dwellers in the NL Central are over and with the veteran leadership brought by the return of Andrew McCutchen, this team has a chance to bring this team to the postseason for the first time since 2015. While they may not be able to compete with some of the juggernauts of the National League, the Pirates are certainly good enough to compete for a title in the weak NL Central. Don’t think this hot start is a fluke, the Pirates are 10-5 and they are for real.

Main Image: David Dermer-USA TODAY Sports

0 0 votes
Do you agree with this article? Let's see your vote!
0 0 votes
Do you agree with this article? Let's see your vote!
Notify of

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x