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The Story of the 2023 Pirates' Unpredictability

by J.T. Toth

Photo of Mitch Keller courtesy of The Athletic.

To say the first half of the Pirates season had its ups and downs is like saying that water is wet, the sky is blue…you get my point. The Pirates started 20-8 and looked like they were here a year or two earlier than most experts and fans thought. Then reality set in, and they finished the rest of the first half of the season going 21-41, finishing 41-49 at the break.

The first half had some things that went right, and of course, many more things that went wrong. As a whole, the Pirates struggled to score runs for games at a time, which led to a 10-game losing streak, and dropped the Pirates from first place to fourth place in a two week period. The Pirates' pitching staff, though young, produced for the majority of the first half.

Here are some interesting stats to contemplate:

Pirates' Team Ranks (out of 30 teams)

Batting Avg.- .238 (21st)

Runs Scored- 379 (25th)

Home Runs- 81 (26th)

Team ERA- 4.37 (19th)

Players Who Excelled in the First Half

SP- Mitch Keller

Keller completed his resurgence by being named to the All-Star team after going 9-4 with a 3.31 ERA and finishing 2nd in the National League in strikeouts. Keller proved he could be the Pirates' ace now, and perhaps a high end #2 in the rotation down the road if their first overall draft pick. Paul Skenes, is truly the generational ace-in-waiting the league expects.

OF- Jack Suwinski

Suwinski has proven the writers wrong, as many of whom (including yours truly) thought he would be better served getting some AAA playing time under his belt when he was in a funk early in the year. Though he still has at-bats where he looks lost at the plate (and leads the league with 40 strikeouts looking), he is tops on the team with 19 home runs and has started hitting lefties at a better clip. Suwinski has made a believer out of many and perhaps he can be a big part of the Pirates outfield during this rebuild.

SP-Osvaldo Bido

Bido has been a pleasant surprise since his call-up in mid-June. A 27-year-old who was an International signing by the Pirates in 2017, Bido was not a pitcher on many “scouting radars.”

Bido has pitched well for the Pirates when they needed it the most, going 1-1 in 5 starts and posting a 4.44 ERA. Though his numbers may not move the needle, he should have won 2 or 3 more of his starts if he’d received more run support. With Roansy Contreras struggling, Bido was a much needed breath of fresh air in the first half.

Players Who Disappointed in the First Half

SP-Roansy Contreras

After a strong 2022 season in which Contreras looked sharp and even dominant at times, his performance spiraled rapidly downward this spring. Contreras was removed from the starting rotation in early June to work on consistency and to find more confidence in his pitches. He has been even worse working out of the bullpen, giving up 4 homeruns in 8 outings.

Contreras, who one time looked like a #2 or #3 starter, needs to find himself again. Hopefully, he can rebound from the demotion like Mitch Keller did and change his fortunes.

LF-Bryan Reynolds

Pirates fans were happy about Reynolds signing his 8 year,106.75 million dollar contract on April 26th. Reynolds started off the season hitting 5 home runs in his first 25 at bats, but has only hit 4 in his past 266 at bats.

With Reynolds, it’s not all about power, but he does not seem to be making the impact the Pirates hoped to see here after the extension. Yes, it’s still early, but he’s hitting .265 with 42 RBI’s and only has a 1.3 WAR, which would be his lowest since the Covid-19 shortened season.

C- Austin Hedges

For 5,000,000 dollars, you can have a .188 hitter with one homerun, who throws out only 16% of his runners and has a -1.0 WAR.

What would you say? Buying or selling?

Ok, so Hedges does steal a strike here and there for the “19th best team ERA pitching” rotation in the bigs. The point is, the Pirates need to figure out what or who they have at the catching position. Henry Davis is playing right field while Hedges puts up 0-4’s on a consistent basis.

That is not the answer.

Endy Rodriguez is working out at first base in Indianapolis and could get called up by season's end. Again, out of position. Perhaps that’s what the Pirates see for Rodriguez with Davis’s future behind the plate?

Many fans bemoan the excuses from the Pirates—and their reasons for starting Hedges. The team may need to see what Davis or Rodriguez can do, sooner rather than later.

What to Look Forward to in the 2nd Half

From a prospect perspective, Draft 412 is looking forward to seeing the growth and progress of both Nick Gonzales and Henry Davis. Since their call ups the Pirates offense has started putting runs on the board again.

As a secondary story, will and can Roansy Contreras start to settle down and become the pitcher that he was last year? Through the eyes of scouts, he still appears to have the stuff to be a solid member of this rotation.

Lastly, late summer ball will allow the Pirates to call up several prospects in the second half of the year. Fans are clamoring to see starting pitcher, Quinn Priester, get a start or two and hopefully become a part of Pittsburgh’s rotation in 2024. Endy Rodriguez, Liover Peguero, and Cal Mitchell are other prospects fans and scouts alike would like to see get a chance to get some major league at bats before 2023 winds to a close.

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