The saying goes that “All great things must come to an end.” Only one team makes it to the top of the mountain with the trophy, while 29 others are still climbing.
And when it comes to the amazing 2013 Pittsburgh Pirates season it would come to end short of the mountain peak. It’s okay to be sad. I mean the goal is always to be the best team.
But if there was ever a group, to be just as proud of as if they were world champs, it would be this 2013 Pittsburgh Pirates team.
I was a believer in this team the last month. I really believed they were going to win the National League this year. They gave me no reason to doubt them, after recovering so many times before. They never gave in to the naysayers or the “collapse” prophets.
No, they just chugged along by never losing more than 4 in a row on their way to 94 regular season wins, a spectacular achievement in its own right.
Now is a good time to admit, that all summer I only wanted for this team to make the Wild Card game and give it to us at home. But this group did so much more.
By destroying the Reds and going toe to toe with the Cardinals, these Pirates solidified themselves as one of the major contenders in the National League this season. And the best part is that it looks to be for future seasons as well.
The Pirates have finally solidified the major league roster with enough proven talent around the original core of: McCutchen, Walker, and Alvarez. Now that core has even grown to add names such as Marte and Cole.
But without the work Neal Huntington and his staff put into this roster in the off-season, it would not have made much of a difference. The plan he detailed to Bob Nutting and Frank Coonelly back in 2007 has finally hit pay dirt.
Huntington knew the only way for this team to compete at the major league level was to draft and develop the star talent for the core, while using trades and free agency to supplement it.
It’s the method Oakland and Tampa have been using for years. It’s not earth-shattering or in genius, but it takes good scouting to accomplish.
Also, it takes a backbone. Huntington and Co. were vilified by the press and fans for years because no one wanted to wait for a winner after 15 losing seasons in a row already.
He started by trading the aging veterans for younger prospects and drafting the actual top talent, so that he could build up the barren minor league system. The trades didn’t all work out, but the draft and the Latin American boom has directly led to a better organization as a whole.
The last step or hurdle (no pun intended) that Huntington had to prove to everyone in the baseball community was if he could find a way to supplement the core they already built through the draft.
And in the winter of 2012, he did that and more. No one, except maybe the Red Sox, had a better off-season the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Pirates signed their new “Ace” pitcher in Francisco Liriano to almost nothing since he was a reclamation project.
They stole Russell Martin from the Yankees because the Yankees F.O. can’t seem to get out of their own way these days.
And then they pretty much fleeced the Red Sox in the Hanrahan deal. (Not that the Red Sox care, because they always have enough resources to overcome those things.) This deal was the one that brought the Pirates Mark Melancon and Stolmy Pimentel.
To make this trade work, Huntington had to resign Jason Grilli, which he went on and did. I remember thinking to myself that I believed that having a cheaper combo of Melancon and Grilli would be better for the team, but boy was I underestimating.
Melancon and Grilli became the premier lockdown guys in baseball until Grilli’s injury. These 2 guys are so valuable that they locked all the other young talented relievers into more comfortable spots.
Huntington proved once again that the best way to build a bullpen was through cheap means. It’s one of the moneyball philosophies that really works.
The Pirates F.O. and scouts have done an amazing job at finding a shorter market to compete with in the off-season. It was in-genius of the F.O. to find groundball pitchers that have higher ERAs because of defense or a mechanical flaw.
It especially helps when you have the type of pitching coordinators the Pirates now employ all throughout the system. All the pitchers are learning fastball command and specifically 2-seam command to get the groundballs.
The last part of the equation was the defensive shifts. If the Pirates want their pitchers throwing a ton of groundballs, they would need a way to make more of those groundballs into outs.
Enter Dan Fox.
He and his staff did tons of research on where every player hits groundballs in any situation. They had the numbers and graphs to know where the balls would be put in play.
All that was needed was the support and no fear of Clint Hurdle to incorporate them.
I’ve been critical of Hurdle for his roster and game management tactics in the past, but I cannot argue with his results. The guy is one of the best in the game at managing egos and supporting so many different personalities on a roster.
But Hurdle accepting the facts presented to him from the analytic department on shifts and then actually employing them was a game changer for this organization.
I cannot stress this enough.
The employment of the defensive shifts and groundball pitching is a staple of the Pittsburgh Pirates at the rookie and developmental leagues all the way up through the major leagues now.
The entire organization is working all as one oiled machine. This is the only way the Pirates can compete for world championships, and the entire organization is finally realizing this.
This is the main reason why I know the Pirates are here for the long haul.
I know this looks to only be the beginning of a new competing reign for the Pirates, but this season should be special in its own merit for many many years in Pirates lore. There may be a couple world championships in the long term future, but none will be greater than this season.
The 2013 season proved to all of us fans, and more importantly to the entire organization, that what they’ve believed in since 2007 will work in the current climate of Major League Baseball.
This season will always be extra special because it was the first. There will never be a more electrifying atmosphere than October 1st, 2013 at PNC Park because it was the first playoff game there. I was there, so I am assure of it.
Thank you Pittsburgh Pirates for giving me some of my most enjoyable experiences of my life.
Winning baseball is here to stay in Pittsburgh and the 2013 Pirates team just announced it to the baseball world.
See you all Opening Day!