Pittsburgh Pirates 2023 Season Preview

Pittsburgh Pirates 2023 Season Preview
(Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The Pittsburgh Pirates brought aboard veteran free agents and made trades during the offseason in preparation for the 2023 season. The Pirates have not made the playoffs since a string of three second-place finishes led to Wild Card berths from 2013-2015. Skipper Derek Shelton would love to lead this young club to a string of division titles like the Pirates teams of the 1970s. But right now he has two fifth-place finishes and a fourth-place finish under his belt. But fans and players are getting restless. Centerfielder Bryan Reynolds reportedly asked for a trade during the offseason. But all is not lost.

The Pirates brought Andrew McCutchen back on a one-year $5 million deal. His leadership presence in the locker room ought to help steer the ship and quell the mutiny. McCutchen knows what it is like to be a beloved young player in Pittsburgh’s organization. He also knows what it’s like to be a veteran player outside of Pittsburgh. McCutchen also has a reputation for being a great person and a family man in addition to being thought of as humble. What a stellar reputation. He is the perfect addition to the Pirates for the 2023 season.

McCutchen’s first nine seasons in the big leagues were with Pittsburgh. The former 2013 MVP had a streak of five consecutive all-star nods from 2011-2015 for the Bucs. Within that same timeframe, he placed in the top five in NL MVP voting for four straight seasons, including two third-place finishes. He led the league in hits in 2012 (194). In 2014, McCutchen led the NL in OPS (.952) and OPS+ (166). That same season, he led all of MLB in OBP (.410).

Sailed Away to Return Another Day

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McCutchen’s ship set sail from Pittsburgh after his age-30 season as the Pirates shipped him along him with $2.5 million cash to the San Francisco Giants in exchange for Kyle Crick, the aforementioned Bryan Reynolds, and international bonus slot money. The trade upset many Bucs fans as McCutchen was a fan favorite in the Burgh. At the time, fans were frustrated that it seemed like the Pirates paid the Giants to take one of their favorite players. But the Bucs received Reynolds in return and McCutchen’s career took a bit of a downturn after leaving The City of Bridges.

Crick was excellent in the first of four seasons in Pittsburgh, compiling a 2.39 ERA, 1.127 WHIP, and a strikeout rate of 9.7 K/9. He allowed only 0.4 HR/9 in his 60 1/3 innings in that 2018 season. In other words, the Pirates made a decent business decision but a poor decision in the hearts of fans. The Pirates released Crick in July 2021 after pitching to a 4.44 ERA, 1.356 WHIP, allowing 11.1 H/9, and throwing six wild pitches combined with five hit batters in 24 1/3 innings. Wild Thing? Bucs fans want a World Series Ring.

Ahoy, Climb Aboard Mateys

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The also Pirates signed veteran switch-hitting first baseman Carlos Santana, 36, this offseason. He turns 37 on April 8 and SportRelay wishes him a happy birthday. Santana’s fame comes from his 10 years with the Cleveland Indians (now the Guardians). In his time with Cleveland, he amassed a .251/.368/.450 slash line, which equates to a .181 OPS and 121 OPS+. During those 10 seasons, he amassed 216 home runs, 273 doubles, 710 RBI, and scored 77 runs.

Santana’s OPS plummeted in the past three seasons to .678 while a member of three separate teams. This is mainly due to a drop in doubles and home runs – which in turn contributed to a drop in all of the numbers in his slash line. Interestingly, Santana’s hard-hit rate rose in each of the past three seasons.

The 2019 all-star and Silver Slugger Award winner walks just about as much as he strikes out. He has 1148 walks and 1246 strikeouts in his career. He led the AL in walks in 2020 (47) and all of MLB in 2014 (113).

Hedges and Garcia Join the Bucs

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The Pirates also signed veteran catcher Austin Hedges, who is primarily a defensive backstop. His career slash line is .189/.247/.331 but led the AL in sacrifice bunts last season (10). Hedges hit as many as 18 home runs as a member of the San Diego Padres in 2017. That same season, Hedges threw out 37% of would-be base stealers (26). In 2020, Hedges led the NL in caught stealing percentage at 46%.

In addition to Hedges, the Pirates signed relieving lefty Jarlin Garcia. Garcia’s best season was with the Giants in 2021 when he pitched to a 2.62 ERA, 0.961 WHIP, and 8.9 K/9. His career numbers are a 3.61 ERA which is good enough for a 113 ERA+, 1.146 WHIP, and 7.2 K/9.

Hill Chooses the Open Seas

Rich Hill is another off-season signing for the Bucs. The journeyman starting lefty hurler is joining his 12th MLB team in his 18-year career. 2023 will be his 19th season at age 43. Hill’s best seasons have mainly come after age 34, however. He was aging like wine but had a down year in 2022 for the Boston Red Sox, pitching to a 4.27 ERA and 1.303 WHIP in 124 1/3 innings. His K/9 was well under his career mark (9.3) at 7.9. Hill looks to bounce back in his return to the NL.

Trades for Joe and Velasquez

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Among the trades the Pirates made this offseason were the acquisitions of Connor Joe and Vince Velasquez. The Pirates acquired 3B Connor Joe from the Colorado Rockies in exchange for Nick Garcia in the offseason. Joe, 30, is a career .247/.346/.385 hitter. His best season was in 2021 when he slashed .285/.379/.469 in 179 at-bats. Garcia, 23, was in High-A in 2022, threw 113 innings, and had an ERA of 3.66, 1.204 WHIP, and a strikeout rate of 8.7 K/9. The Pirates drafted Garcia in the third round of the 2020 draft, but they forced him to walk the plank over to the Rockies.

Velasquez, 30, is a right-handed swingman. For the Chicago White Sox last season, he started nine games, finished eight, and appeared in 27 overall. His ERA+ is below average for his career and was below average in each season with the exception of 2016 when he had the sophomore antislump. He had an ERA+ of 101 in 2016 with 10.4 K/9 in 131 innings. Velasquez’s career numbers are a 4.93 ERA, 85 ERA+, 1.375 WHIP, and a good 9.7 K/9. Unfortunately, the 8.7 hits per nine innings he’s given up in his career really come back to nibble at his ERA and compound his WHIP.

Pirates Injuries for 2023

PlayerInjuryStatusEstimated Return
Max KranickTommy John surgery 6/202260-day ILOut until at least 9/1/2023
JT BrubakerElbow15-day ILOut until at least the all-star break, maybe the 2023 season
Jarlin GarciaNerve in right biceps60-day ILOut until at least 5/31/2023; no-throw program until mid-April
Robert StephensonElbow soreness15-day IL retroactive to March 27April 13 minimum

Pirates Starting Rotation for the 2023 Season

NumberPlayerThrows
1Mitch KellerR
2Roansy ContrerasR
3Johan OviedoR
4Rich HillL
5Vince VelasquezR
JT Brubaker injured his elbow towards the end of spring training and may miss 1/2 or the entire season at the time of publishing

Pirates Bullpen for 2023

PlayerThrows
David Bednar (CP)R
Colin HoldermanR
Wil CroweR
Duane Underwood Jr.R
Chase De JongR
Jarlin Garcia*L
Robert Stephenson**R
Jose HernandezL
Dauri MoretaR
*Garcia is on the 60-day IL
**Stephenson is on the 15-day IL

Projected 2023 Starting Lineup

NumberPlayerBats
1Oneil CruzL
2Bryan ReynoldsS
3Andrew McCutchenR
4Carlos SantanaS
5Ke’Bryan HayesR
6Rodolfo Castro / Ji Hwan BaeS
7Connor JoeR
8Ji-Man ChoiL
9Austin HedgesR

Main Photo:

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Chris Gray

Chris Gray

Chris is a writer, philosopher, and web developer. He is currently the Web Developer as well as an Editor and Contributor for SportRelay.

When Chris was young, he played Little League Baseball for years. In addition, he used to look at the statistics on baseball cards to compare the different players and trade the cards with his friends. As a teenager, he worked as a Computer Technician until he landed a position as a Network Administrator at a middle school in Los Angeles, California.

Feeling unfulfilled with a lack of education to combine with his work and life experience, he returned to school, obtained a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Philosophy from UCLA, and now spends his time writing, investing, thinking, programming, and enjoying baseball.

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