2022 Pittsburgh Pirates
2022 Pittsburgh Pirates / Franchise: Pittsburgh Pirates / BR Team Page
Managed by Derek Shelton
History, Comments, Contributions
There was little hope for Pittsburgh for the 2022 Pittsburgh Pirates. They were coming off a 100-loss season and had been the last-place team in MLB in 2019. Most projections were calling for a win total in the 60s, a slight improvement. Very few regulars were returning. From the previous year's starters at the beginning of the year, only 3B Ke'Bryan Hayes (signed to a team-record extension just before Opening Day), OF Bryan Reynolds (their only offensive star in 2021) and SS Kevin Newman returned. Hayes had shown dazzling defense in his brief time in the majors but the question was whether he would hit like his father Charlie Hayes or develop more with age. Newman was also a question mark, having starred as a rookie in 2019 and hitting over .300 with some speed and power, then being a two-way disappointment in 2020. In 2021, he had led NL shortstops in fielding percentage but had not hit much. The team had let incumbent 1B Colin Moran go; he had been an okay hitter but not a star, while trading Gold Glove catcher Jacob Stallings for prospects given his advancing age.
Replacing Stallings behind the dish was reclamation project Roberto Pérez, a two-time Gold Glove winner and power threat with the Cleveland Indians who had struggled the prior two years. Other reclamation projects included 1B Yoshi Tsutsugo (who finished 2021 well with Pittsburgh but had not fared well overall since coming over from Japan) and DH Daniel Vogelbach (a former M's All-Star they picked up as a free agent now that the NL was not going to play real baseball but would use a DH instead). The starter at second was not clear entering the season, with former prospect Cole Tucker, former Red Sox starter Michael Chavis and Hoy Park in the mix. Also unclear was right field, where free agent signee Greg Allen was injured late in spring training, coupled with an injury to Anthony Alford. Pittsburgh picked up Jake Marisnick, an elite defender but not a big-time offensive threat, right before the season began. Returning in left was Ben Gamel, who had been a fair hitter for the team after a waiver pick-up in 2021, but not providing the offense one would expect from a corner outfielder. There were few prospects knocking on the door at AAA; the most notable was Oneil Cruz, expected to join the team at some point. The staff also had numerous question marks, with the Bucs cutting ties with mainstays Chad Kuhl and Steven Brault in the off-season. In the mix were JT Brubaker, former prospect Mitch Keller, Zach Thompson (part of the Stallings trade), Wil Crowe, reclamation project José Quintana, Bryse Wilson and Dillon Peters (prospect Roansy Contreras hopefully joining at some point during the year). The bullpen returned a few solid contributors from 2021, like David Bednar, Chris Stratton and Anthony Banda, but none had extensive records of success in The Show.
The season started off as one might expect, as Pittsburgh lost 9-0 to the St. Louis Cardinals on April 7th, with Hayes being injured on Opening Day for the second straight season while Adam Wainwright ran his shutout streak against Pittsburgh to 32 innings. Pittsburgh surprisingly started 7-7 before losing 21-0 to the Cubs, the biggest blowout loss in the franchise's long history. They rebounded the next day to beat Chicago and return to .500. Pittsburgh was 9-12 at the end of May, with Hayes, Vogelbach and Chavis leading the offense, while Reynolds was off to a slow start. The starters were generally struggling (other than Quintana) while the bullpen had been doing well.
Pittsburgh was 11-16 to open the year but had not yet gotten a win from a starting pitcher, something no team in MLB history had had to wait so long for. The team was in third place in the division but between limiting starter usage, lack of run support, and poor starting pitching as well as occasional opener usage, all 11 wins had gone to relievers. A starter finally got a win on May 9th when Quintana beat the Los Angeles Dodgers, 5-1; it also ended a 18-game losing streak for the Bucs against the Dodgers, dating to 2018. The previous record for a team to open a season without a win by a starter had been the 1988 Orioles, who had dropped their first 21 games that season.
Quintana was strong again with seven shutout innings six days later, on May 15th but got a no-decision as Hunter Greene was no-hitting the Pirates. The Bucs loaded the bases in the 8th with three walks and Hayes beat out a potential double-play grounder to drive in the game's only run as Pittsburgh became the first MLB team in 14 years to win a game without getting a hit. They were 21-27 at month's end, still third in the NL Central, despite a 16-32 pythagorean record, meaning that they should have been faring much worse given their run differential. Hayes (.293/.378/.384, 120 OPS+), Vogelbach (.241/.321/.457, 120 OPS+), Chavis (.293/.331/.500, 135 OPS+) and Gamel (.257/.350/.386, 111 OPS+) had paced the offense, but the latter three had missed time with injuries. After that, things dropped off significantly. The team still had no regular option at 1B (with Tsutsugo injured after struggling in the early going) and 2B. After Roberto Pérez's season-ending injury, the team had gotten almost no offense from catcher with Michael Perez (.114/.188/.250, 24 OPS+), Andrew Knapp (.129/.229/.161, 15 OPS+) and Tyler Heineman (.190/.261/.190, 32 OPS+) all failing to contribute. Quintana had excelled (1-2, 2.15, 192 ERA+) but Brubaker (0-4, 4.15, 99 ERA+) was their only other starter with an ERA+ over 80. Bednar (2-1, 9 Sv, 1.38, 300 ERA+) and Crowe (2-2, 2 Sv, 2.35, 176 ERA+) had led the relief corps.
Despite hovering around a .400 winning percentage (31-45 at the end of June), Pittsburgh had some big months in June. Suwinski, Reynolds and Michael Perez all had three-homer games, the first time any team had done that in one month in MLB history; in the Reynolds game, the team also benefited from a rare fourth-out play in a one-run win. With young players now playing - SS Cruz and OF Bligh Madris were both called up on June 19th to join Contreras and Suwinski most notably - and contributing more, there was more hope despite the struggles.
Awards and Honors
- All-Star: David Bednar
- Justice delos Santos: "Bucs beat Reds without a hit -- and VanMeter called it", mlb.com, May 15, 2022. 
- Justice delos Santos: "1, 2, 3! Perez helps Bucs make HR history: Pittsburgh is 1st club to have 3 players log 3-homer games in a single month", mlb.com, July 1, 2022.