Found June 29, 2013 on isportsweb.com:
I just keep staring at it.  I refresh my browser every now and then, just to make sure it’s true. 49-30.  Now the best record in all of baseball.  The Pittsburgh Pirates. GM Huntington; Image credit rackcdn I never saw this season coming.  Ever.  This past March, if I had predicted the 2013 team’s record based on how little I thought GM Neal Huntington accomplished over the offseason, I would’ve regressed the Pirates substantially from the 2012 club that finished 79-83, probably dropping them around 70-92. If you’ve read any of my 80+ articles over the past few years, you’ll know that I’m generally critical of the Pirates’ General Manager, going so far as to wonder whether he’d be fired, previously incapable of matching even the cumulative won-loss record of the Pirates under former GM Dave Littlefield, whom I considered one of the worst GMs in professional sports history. Luckily, the pink slip never came, because for whatever reason, everything Neal Huntington has touched over the past year has turned pure gold.  Let’s take a look at a few of the GMs controversial offseason moves that are paying bigtime dividends for the current club. December 1st, 2012:  Pirates sign Russell Martin to a 2-year deal Martin showing off his defensive prowess; image credit post-gazette I thought this was a terrible waste of resources, a transparent gesture to show fans that the Pirates could “outbid” the New York Yankees on players, even though the Yankees didn’t seem to have an interest in bringing back the 30-year old backstop that hit .211 for them the year previously.  I was frustrated that Martin’s OPS+ the previous 4 years were 86, 88, 95, and 92, and yet the Pirates were paying him like a consistent 100 OPS+ catcher.  Finally, I felt that Martin saved the Pirates from their own bad judgment, kyboshing a 3-year offer in favor of a 2-year, $17MM pact. As of late June, 2013, the signing has been excellent.  Even with some offensive regression, Martin is still posting a 114 OPS+ and 3.0 WAR (wins above replacement player).  Perhaps even more importantly, he improved upon the MLB-history-making atrocious defense of former Huntington signee Rod Barajas, throwing out an MLB-leading 46.2% of potential base bandits, a rate higher than even Gold Glove NL Central rival Yadier Molina of the St. Louis Cardinals.  Martin’s DWAR (defensive WAR) is also 50% higher than any other backstop in baseball (if you believe the stat has value).  Lastly, the Pirates’ pitching staff believes Martin- who worked in Pinstripes with current ace A.J. Burnett- calls an excellent game, and sneaks a few calls per game as an excellent pitch framer.   December 30th, 2012:  Pirates trade CL Joel Hanrahan to Boston; name RP Jason Grilli as closer Dominant late-inning battery; image credit rantsports The Buccos may not have *officially* named Grilli closer on that day, but everyone saw it coming when the Pirates finally moved Hanrahan- along with 2B Brock Holt- to the Red Sox for RP Mark Melancon, OF Jerry Sands, SP Stolmy Pimentel, and INF Ivan De Jesus.  I was not opposed to the Pirates dealing their closer; frankly, I think Huntington missed two previous better selling opportunities on the effective but inaccurate fireballer.  Rather, I was leery about the reins simply being handed over to the next man in line, especially when that arm was attached to a 36-year old body that had a total of 7 saves over his 10-year career.  Further, I thought the return was Boston was incredibly underwhelming, basically a scrapped-together package of pieces that the Red Sox weren’t wild about anyway. But the Pirates’ instinct was correct, because Jason Grilli has been one of the 4 best closers in baseball in 2013.  Not blowing his first save until June 19th, the 6’4″ righty is 26/27 in save opportunities, to go with a 1.82 ERA and A.B.S.U.R.D. 15.1 K/9.  To put that number in perspective, if a pitcher struck out “half” of all the batters he faced every inning (1.5 out of 3), he would only reach 13.5 K/9.  That’s how dominant Grilli has been. And then when you factor in that: 1.  Joel Hanrahan underwent Tommy John surgery for the Red Sox, and will not pitch again in 2013 Melancon setting ‘em up; image credit zimbio 2.  Mark Melancon has been arguably the best setup man in baseball, with a 0.96 ERA and 9.6 K/9, while serving as the “grilled cheese” appetizer 3.  While Holt and Sands have both endured atrocious AAA campaigns in 2013, and Pimentel has only been passable, De Jesus is hitting .315 with an .837 OPS at AAA, and *should* be a preferred candidate to put either SS Clint Barmes (.502 OPS) or INF Brandon Inge (.503 OPS) out of their misery on the MLB club. So in total, an excellent trade by Huntington on at least 2 different fronts.   January 21st, 2013:  Pirates sign Francisco Liriano to modified 2-year deal Again in my mind, yet another waste of Pittsburgh’s limited resources.  After being one of the more dominant pitchers in the AL in 2010 (regrettably causing me to trade a young SP Derek Holland for him during a pennant chase in a fantasy keeper league of mine), Liriano had atrocious 2011 and 2012 seasons, filled with more free passes than a Clay Aiken concert in South Central. 2011:  5.09 ERA, 80 ERA+, 5.0 BB/9 2012:  5.34 ERA, 78 ERA+, 5.0 BB/9 A return to 2010 form? Image credit lesterslegends The Pirates were paying Liriano like the guy coming off his 2010 season, completely overlooking his previous two campaigns.  I thought Liriano breaking his non-throwing arm over the offseason would sober the Pirates up and have them walk away, but they simply modified the deal, reducing Liriano’s salary if he couldn’t pitch. As of late June 2013, pitching coach Ray Searage has worked wonders with the 30-year old lefty, returning him to his 2010 form- if not better.  Liriano is currently 6-3 with a 2.70 ERA.  His 10.0 K/9 would rank him 5th among SP in all of baseball, were he to qualify innings-wise (as he started the season late due to his injury).  Most importantly, his BB/9- long Liriano’s Achilles Heel- has dropped to 3.6.  The lefty is a valuable addition, and has provided stability to the rotation in the wake of DL stints by Burnett and SP Wandy Rodriguez.   Overall, Neal Huntington’s offseason had some very strong moves in hindsight, which this author clearly misevaluated at the time.  And if you think these were good, try reading up on the positive developments out of Pittsburgh’s minor league system this year (which we’ll cover in future articles)!  For whatever reason, after 20 straight years of misery, everything appears to be going the Pirates’ way this year.  Thanks for reading!  
THE BACKYARD
BEST OF MAXIM
RELATED ARTICLES

Pittsburgh Pirates Through The Eyes Of A Fan Who Has Never Seen A Winning Season

I am 21-year-old college student, and I was six months old the last time the Pirates had a winning season. So technically I was alive last time the Pirates had a winning season, but for argument’s sake I have never seen a winning season.  I have witnessed the likes of Brian Giles, Jason Kendall, Jason Bay, Kris Benson, Aramis Ramirez, and plenty of others come and go while showing...

Jameson Taillon Effective for Seven Innings, Even Without Best Stuff

Jameson Taillon allowed zero walks for just the second time all season. Pirates’ top pitching prospect Jameson Taillon did not launch his fastball up to the high-90′s Thursday night in Akron like he has in the past. Taillon’s breaking ball was not missing bats, which meant he got his first and only strikeout in the 6th inning. Despite Altoona’s starter not having his best...

Pirates Notebook: “New” Rotation Key to 8-Game Win Streak

Francisco Liriano’s season ERA has dropped three runs from last year, allowing 1.6 fewer walks per nine. (Photo Credit: David Hague) For more than half of last season, from June to August, the Pirates used a rotation that included A.J. Burnett, Kevin Correia, Erik Bedard, James McDonald, Brad Lincoln, Jeff Karstens and Wandy Rodriguez. None of them are on the team’s current active...

Alvarez, Jones Homer to Beat Brewers, Set Franchise Record with 50th Win

Pedro Alvarez launched his 10th June home run, most in a month for his career. (Photo Credit: David Hague) From Pedro Alvarez homering into the Allegheny River to Garrett Jones homering into the center field bushes, the Pirates got the natural environment involved in their eighth-straight win Saturday night. It contrasted with the supernatural – the Bucs reaching 50 wins in June...

Pirates Sign Nick Buckner and Billy Roth

The Pirates have signed 14th round pick Nick Buckner and 16th round pick Billy Roth. More to come.

The Pittsburgh Pirates are all alone in first place (and it’s June 29th)

We had a feeling that this was going to be a special summer for the Pittsburgh Pirates. It’s almost July, and the Pirates season is at it’s zenith. Last night the Pirates won 10-3 in Pittsburgh over the Milwaukee Brewers. It was the club’s 7th straight victory. They took a one game lead over the Cardinals in the NL Central standings with the Cards 6-1 loss in Oakland last night...

DSL Prospect Watch: Angels Put Up 17 Runs On Pirates

For a season preview of the Pittsburgh Pirates two Dominican Summer League teams, check out our article here. Throughout the year, we will provide the recaps of both teams, as well as highlight one player each day.  PIRATES1  Box Score Result: Angels 17, Pirates 10 Starting Pitcher: Miguel Ferreras, RHP (0-4, 6.38) – 1.0 IP, 4 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 2 BB, 1 K, 0 HR Top Hitter: Pablo Reyes...

Pirates' Wandy Rodriguez, James McDonald face setbacks

On top of the Major League standings being only 50-win team which also includes a Top 5 rotation ERA, the Pittsburgh Pirates got some bad news Saturday on a couple of those starters. Wandy Rodriguez and James McDonald are both dealing with setbacks that are certain to shelve them for a long time. A.J. Burnett, another sidelined member of the season-opening rotation, is making...

Last-place Brewers look to topple Pirates

The Pittsburgh Pirates will begin a six-game homestand Friday night with a share of the best record in baseball. The Pirates can extend their longest win streak in nine years to seven games when they send Gerrit Cole to the mound to face the last-place Milwaukee Brewers. Pittsburgh (48-30), tied with St. Louis atop the NL Central, went 7-2 on a trip against Cincinnati, the Los...

Game 80 Preview: Pirates vs. Brewers

Brewers (32-46) at Pirates (49-30) 7:15 PM–PNC Park, Pittsburgh MLB.com Gameday TV: FOX The first place Pittsburgh Pirates go for eight in a row tonight against the last place Milwaukee Brewers. PNC Park should be sold out for the fifth straight game (it’s Fireworks Night, after all) and it should be a great atmosphere on the North Shore. Tonight’s game is on FOX, but only...

Minor League Schedule: A Busy Saturday For The System

Altoona had the second game of their doubleheader rained out last night. They will try to play two again tonight. For a look at the possible starters over the next few weeks, please check out our Probable Pitchers Chart. Check out the Recent Transactions section to the bottom of this page, for all Pirates minor league transactions. A full recap of yesterday’s action can be found...

Ground Chuck is back for Pirates

The Pirates starting rotation has been plagued by injuries, so the return of right-hander Charlie Morton, who missed over a year after undergoing Tommy John surgery came at a very opportune time. In three starts Morton has posted a 1-1 record with a 2.81 ERA. PiratesDugout.com's George Von Benko spoke with Morton recently.

Minor League Schedule: Dickson and Holmes Headline Sunday’s Games

Five teams on the schedule today, four of the games are early afternoon starts. The GCL Pirates and both Dominican Summer League affiliates are off today. They will all resume play tomorrow. For a look at the possible starters over the next few weeks, please check out our Probable Pitchers Chart. Check out the Recent Transactions section to the bottom of this page, for all Pirates...

West Virginia Scores Three In Ninth To Win Series Finale 5-4 Over Lakewood

The West Virginia Power took the four series in Lakewood today, with a comeback win, giving them three wins against the BlueClaws in this set and they have now beat them in 13 of 16 meetings this year. Down 4-2 going into the ninth inning, the Power drew three straight walks to start the frame. After a sacrifice fly made it 4-3, Ashley Ponce hit what looked to be a game-ending double...

First to 50: Links for a Sunday

The Pirates are the first team to 50 wins in all of baseball for the first time since 1960. Here are some morning links before Sunday's game post goes up.  Wandy Rodriguez threw his bullpen session yesterday and it did not go well. He's still bothered by the forearm tightness that put him on the disabled list at the beginning of the month and is going to be reevaluated...
MLB News
Delivered to your inbox
You'll also receive Yardbarker's daily Top 10, featuring the best sports stories from around the web. Customize your newsletter to get articles on your favorite sports and teams. And the best part? It's free!

Today's Best Stuff
For Bloggers

Join the Yardbarker Network for more promotion, traffic, and money.

Company Info
Help
What is Yardbarker?

Yardbarker is the largest network of sports blogs and pro athlete blogs on the web. This site is the hub of the Yardbarker Network, where our editors and algorithms curate the best sports content from our network and beyond.