2020 Pittsburgh Pirates
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2020 Pittsburgh Pirates / Franchise: Pittsburgh Pirates / BR Team Page
Managed by Derek Shelton
History, Comments, Contributions
The 2020 Pittsburgh Pirates entered the year with very low expectations. After going 69-93 the year before, most of the changes had been to the front office and coaching staff rather than the players, with Derek Shelton starting his first season as a major league manager and Ben Cherington having been appointed as GM. 1B Josh Bell, 2B Adam Frazier, SS Kevin Newman, 3B Colin Moran and LF Bryan Reynolds all returned and were unlikely to make major improvements as they had all hit fairly well in 2019, though only Frazier had fielded well. RF Gregory Polanco had missed most of 2019 and there was hope he would be healthy and back in 2018 form, while the team had traded one of their top offensive threats, CF Starling Marte, for prospects, hoping to fill the gap with a stopgap free agent signee, Jarrod Dyson. They had cut ties altogether with C Elías Díaz, hoping Jacob Stallings' offensive production in 2019 was not a fluke while his defense would continue to be a positive. The pitching staff returned in large part as well - Chris Archer, Trevor Williams, Joe Musgrove and Mitch Keller were all back in the rotation and any hope for progress relied on that group changing performance from '19, with some reason for such expectations (Archer had done very well with the Tampa Bay Rays, Williams had excelled in the second half of 2019 and Keller was a top prospect). Steven Brault, Chad Kuhl (back from Tommy John surgery) and Derek Holland (a free agent signee) were in the mix for the 5th spot in the rotation. Keone Kela, Richard Rodriguez, Edgar Santana (also back from Tommy John surgery), Kyle Crick, Nick Burdi and Clay Holmes were among the bullpen hopes, with Kela replacing Felipe Vazquez, whose career had likely come to an end due to off-field incidents.
The team did poorly in spring training before it was cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic. While things were on hold, the team lost Archer to season-ending surgery. When spring training resumed in July, the woes continued. Meanwhile, like other teams, numerous players were sidelined due to positive COVID tests, including Kela, Polanco and top prospect Ke'Bryan Hayes, who had been expected to play a bigger role with the DH allowing them to move Moran to DH and play Hayes. The team dropped its first two games before getting a first win behind Keller.
Injuries riddled the pitchers early in the season. Joining Archer on the injured list were Holmes, Michael Feliz, Keller and Crick; Santana had been lost due to a PED positive test suspension and Kela had not yet seen action due to not getting two negative COVID-19 tests in a row for a while. The team was only 3-13, last in the majors, when they hit a break because the Cardinals were sidelined by a large number of COVID cases. They had a team OPS+ of only 67, with their top hitter (Phillip Evans, .359/.444/.487, 160 OPS+, 9 RBI in 11 G) lost for the year to a concussion. Dyson (.118/.189/.118, -11 OPS+) and Polanco (2 for 29, 2B, HR, -1 OPS+) were in negative ground in OPS+ and the only starter hitting well was Moran (.226/.305/.528, 126 OPS+). The staff was not as bad but was not good with a 5.32 ERA (88 ERA+) and numerous bullpen meltdowns. Kuhl had done well in his return to the field (2 R, 12 K in 9 IP) while Rodriguez (0-1, 3.38) had been their best reliever. Among those lit up had been Holland (0-1, 8.27), Musgrove (0-3, 6.75) and Dovydas Neverauskas (0-2, 6.43). Emblematic of their bullpen woes was Miguel Del Pozo (8 BB, 7 H, 7 R in 3 2/3 IP).
As the team's struggles continued all season, they challenged the 1952 Pirates for the worst record in franchise history since 1890. Bad news for the future came when Oneil Cruz, one of their top prospects, broke COVID curfew rules in the Dominican Republic and was involved in a fatal car crash while having alcohol in his system. While uninjured, he faced a possible lengthy prison sentence.
Awards and Honors
- Adam Berry: "Pirates don No. 21 to honor 'The Great One'", mlb.com, September 9, 2021. 
- Gabe Lacques: "After years of spiraling, new regime has Pirates finally ready to catch up with the rest of baseball", USA Today, February 25, 2020.