Good morning. It is August 20th, 2013.
With last night's win, the Pirates are 73-51. Since 1992, the Pirates failed to win 72 games in the following seasons*: 1994, 1995, 1998, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011.
There are three new additions to the list today, which means that 72 wins is one of two the most regular outcome of the last 20 years, tied with 69 wins. The 2002 Pirates were one of the worst offensive teams relative to their league in the whole bunch. They only had two regulars with an above average OPS; Brian Giles, who was incredible in 2002 (.298/.450/.622 with 37 doubles, 38 homers, and 105 RBIs), and Craig Wilson, who somehow couldn't really crack the every day lineup despite being one of the team's two best hitters. This was the year in which Aramis Ramirez spiked his helmet off of his ankle while charging the mound, badly injuring it and causing him to struggle all year. This was also Jason Kendall's first truly subpar year at the plate, as he was dealing with the aftermath the devastating thumb injury that would rob him of his power for the rest of his career. It's also illustrative of the difference in offensive eras. The 2002 Pirates hit .244/.319/.381 as a team. That gave them the worst batting average, the worst on-base percentage, and the second-worst slugging percentage in the NL that year. This year's Pirates are hitting .245/.313/.391. That's good for eleventh, eighth, and eighth in 2013.
The other two years, 2004 and 2011, are nice parallels. 2004 was the year that the Pirates really transitioned out of the Bonifay era and into the Littlefield era. It's hard to remember now, but there were some legitimately exciting things about that season; Jason Bay and Oliver Perez had come over from the Padres in the Brian Giles trade at the end of 2003, and they both had huge seasons in 2004. Bay won Rookie of the Year with his 26 homers and .907 OPS in 120 games, and Perez struck out 239 hitters to go with his 2.98 ERA. The Pirates hit .500 on Memorial Day Weekend after the Mackowiak double-header, they were 48-50 in late July, and even after a late-season swoon, it seemed like thing were moving in the right direction.
They wouldn't win 72 games again until 2011. You remember 2011 well, of course, and it's part of the reason that every loss this late in the year gives you acid reflux. Really, though, 2011 laid a base that 2012 and then 2013 could build off of. A lot of the same things that we're seeing emphasized in 2013 started that year; that was the season that Charlie Morton changed his approach to focus on ground balls, the first season that an emphasis on defense started, the season that Andrew McCutchen's underlying rates started pointing towards a breakout, and there were even some some defensive shifts (though I think those may have actually started back in 2010). The result was that an under-talented Pirate team found themselves in contention well into July, before they fell apart while the Brewers caught fire. Unlike 2004, though, it really was a sign that there were better seasons ahead.
That's 14 seasons we've crossed off the list. There's more work left to be done.
*The strike shortened 1994 and 1995. The '94 Pirates were on pace for 75 wins, but the '95 Pirates were terrible and only on pace for 65 wins.
"2011...the first season that an emphasis on defense started"
For me, the quality defense continues to be cherry on top of this sundae.I was watching highlights from the Cards/Brewers game and saw a throw from the cutoff man near second base towards third base that looked like one of those ceremonial first pitches gone bad.It just made me appreciate the Pirate defense that much more.
Ah, I remember holding a physical copy of the Post-Gazette in 2004 and being startled by how similar the beginning of Perez's career was to Koufax's. What a cruel joke that was.
@Operation Shutdown As opposed to all the pre-draft scouting reports comparing Kris Benson to a young Koufax.