Pittsburgh Pirates: 2017 season review and offseason preview

PITTSBURGH, PA - SEPTEMBER 27: Starling Marte /
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What went right, what went wrong, and what are the top priorities for the Pittsburgh Pirates this offseason?

Coming into the 2017 season, Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco were supposed to be the dynamic outfield trio that would lead the Pirates to a playoff spot. Instead, they rarely played together. Marte was suspended for PED use and missed half the season. He came back in July only to see Polanco struggle to stay on the field because of injuries in late July and again in the second half of August.

In addition to Marte’s suspension, the Pirates didn’t get a single game from Jung Ho Kang, who missed the entire season with legal issues in South Korea stemming from a third drunk driving conviction. Kang was a bargain-basement signing prior to the 2015 season who gave the team two good seasons at a low cost. He’s signed through 2018 with a team option for 2019, so the Pirates are still hoping to get him back on the field after he plays this offseason in the Dominican Winter League.

Without Kang for the season and Marte for a half-season, plus the underperformance of other hitters, the Pirates finished the year 28th in wRC+, a Fangraphs metric that adjusts for league and ballpark effects. Collectively, Pirates hitters were 15 percent below average based on this metric. The pitching staff was around the middle-of-the-pack, so it was the offense that was the primary reason for the team’s worst win-loss record since 2011.

Even before the season started the outlook for the Pirates wasn’t great. They were picked to win between 79 and 83 games by Fangraphs, Baseball Prospectus, and Sports Illustrated. Had they reached their most optimistic projection of 83 wins, they still would have been four games out of the second wild card spot.

A second-straight season below .500 made a difference in fan support. Four years ago, the Pirates had their first winning season and first playoff appearance in two decades. They followed that up with two more playoff appearances. This success led to a team record of nearly 2.5 million fans in 2015 (a 98-win season).

Last year’s 78-83 record chipped away at fan morale, as the team lost about 250,000 fans from the year before. This year they lost another 330,000 and had their lowest attendance since the very ugly 2010 season when they were 57-105. If ownership puts a winning product on the field, fans will flock to beautiful PNC Park.

Of course, any season has some bright spots, along with the negatives. Let’s look at what went right, what went wrong, and the top offseason needs for the Pittsburgh Pirates.