Unfortunately, the final record for the Pittsburgh Pirates did not accurately reflect the progress they made this season. They played meaningful games after the all-star break for the first time since 1997. Pitching was cited as the main reason for the Pirates success, but good pitching does not happen without good fielding.
When you look at the recent history of the Pirates, you see a ton of last place finishes in DER. That can only negatively impact the pitching staff to the point where most people think the Pirates have inferior pitchers. Their turn around this season is proof positive that fielding matters and that can only get better as their fielding improves.
DER: .684 (25th)
RA: 652 (19th)
FLD%: .982 (21st)
Baseball Reference: -13 runs (23rd)
Fangraphs: -12.5 runs (20th)
Fielding Bible: -18 runs (25th)
Baseball Prospectus: +3.2 runs (12th)
Composite Runs: -10.1 runs
I know many of you are looking at these numbers and wondering what the big fuss is about, but believe me, this represents a significant improvement. Going from abysmal to merely below average is a relatively easy move to make, but it does require a shift in thinking. It also shows up on the field.
It will be the move from below average that will require more work. Taking the first step requires an axe. Taking the next steps requires a scalpel. Most players on the diamond are credible defenders. A few are not. Finding those spots and improving them is the next step.
Whether it continues or not, Ronny Cedeno's season was a breath of fresh air. He rated third in the National League behind Alex Gonzalez and Clint Barmes. Yes, that means he was in front of Troy Tulowitzki with the glove. This is something we had not seen before from the shortstop, so it remains to be seen if we will see it again.
Pedro Alvarez had one of those seasons every player wants to forget. To call it a sophomore slump would be to sugarcoat it beyond recognition. He fell off the map offensively, defensively and he struggled to be healthy. Fortunately, he is young enough to turn all of those around and if he does this team could make a lot of noise.
The Pirates are surprisingly stable for a team in their payroll situation. Derrek Lee is a free agent at first base, but the Pirates want him back. Ryan Ludwick is also a free agent and could fit into their right field plans, but he will likely sign elsewhere. Otherwise, this team remains intact.
If they get Derrek Lee back and Pedro Alvarez bounces back, their defense and overall performance should take another big step forward. In a weakened NL Central, that might be enough to play meaningful September games for the first time in two decades.