After enduring a difficult start to the season, the Pittsburgh Pirates have fought their way back into the second Wild Card spot. At 75-68, they have a 1.5 game lead on the Atlanta Braves and the Milwaukee Brewers for the last playoff berth. A big reason for their success has been their offensive prowess.
In terms of runs scored, the Pirates rank ninth in the major leagues, and third in the National League. by wRC+, a park-adjusted batting metric, the Pirates 107 mark is third-best in the major leagues. However, the fact that they carry a near-automatic out in their lineup puts them at a significant disadvantage relative to the two teams ahead of them, the Los Angeles Angels and Detroit Tigers. If the inquiry is limited to position players, the Pirates have a team wRC+ of 115, which is three points higher than the Angels mark.
Centerfielder Andrew McCutchen is having another sensational year at the plate. He leads the Pirates in the traditional categories of home runs, runs, and runs batted in, and his 163 wRC+ is the best mark on the team and the top mark in the NL. A huge surprise has been the outstanding play of utility man Josh Harrison.
After three years of part-time play in which he topped out at a .290 on-base percentage and .409 slugging percentage, Harrison has been one of the most productive hitters in baseball. In 124 games he owns a slash line of .315/.348/.513. He’s drilled 53 extra-base hits and stolen 17 bags while playing outfield, second base and third base.
Catcher Russell Martin is also having a great year. While injuries have limited Martin to 96 games, he’s managed to accumulate 4.6 fWAR. He owns a .287/.408/.409 batting line and is playing his usual strong defense. Second baseman Neil Walker is also having a career year. Walker has ripped 19 home runs and possesses a .278/.349/.465 batting line.
Starling Marte is reprising his strong 2013 season with a .279/.348/.438 slash line. He’s also contributed a team-leading 25 stolen bases. Even retread Travis Snider is having a good year at the plate with a .255/.324/.411 line that rounds out to a 109 wRC+. With rookie outfielder Gregory Polanco not progressing as quickly as the Pirates have hoped, Snider has been a valuable piece in the outfield. Ike Davis and Pedro Alvarez have low batting averages, but they represent the 7th and 8th Pirates batters with a wRC+ of over 100.
The Pirates pitching staff has struggled in a big way. Closer Mark Melancon leads the team with 1.6 fWAR. Gerrit Cole, Francisco Liriano and Charlie Morton are all a shade over +1 fWAR. No other pitcher has reached that mark, and arms such as the departed Wandy Rodriguez, Jason Grilli and Ernesto Frieri have all contributed negative value.
Despite the struggles of their pitching staff and injuries to key players such as McCutchen and Martin, the Pirates are in strong shape to make the playoffs. This is a very deep lineup that also possesses star power. It should give opposing pitching staffs fits.