The Pittsburgh Pirates have slowly risen from the depths of the National League to sit atop Major League Baseball. They have done so on the backs of excellent pitching, average hitting and a relatively no-name team. If the Mets are going to succeed next year and beyond, it will be by utilizing the same formula the Pirates have seemingly mastered.
Pirates’ general manager Neil Huntington has rebuilt a team that was 57-105 as recently as the 2010 season and hasn’t had a winning season in 21 years. Thanks in part to the emphasis on young pitching and a steadily improving roster, the Pirates are on pace to win 96 games this season.
Huntington talked to Sports Illustrated last month highlighting the change in fans' mindsets.
“They’ve shifted from hoping that we could win 82 games to being angry that we didn’t make the playoffs last year, and that’s a wonderful dynamic,” he said.
So why bring up the Pirates?
Because the Mets are exhibiting all of the same signs the Pirates did before they took baseball by storm this season. It is possible that at this time next year, the Mets will be neck-deep in a playoff race, with a city reinvigorated and a fan base that expects success.
If history repeats itself, then the similarities between the 79-83 2012 Pirates team and the current Mets team mean good omens for the Mets next year.
As a part of Grantland’s 2012 MLB preview Jonah Keri wrote about what to expect from the Pirates in the upcoming season.
“The Bucs are still a long shot to contend this year. But you'll see good baseball again in Pittsburgh in the not-too-distant future,” he wrote in February of 2012.
Sports Illustrated’s Ted Keith wrote something similar this past March, but about the 2013 Mets.
“A franchise that was mired in a seemingly endless series of missteps both on the field and off will finally be seeing the long-stalled rebuilding plan bearing fruit,” Keith wrote. “It may not get them back to the playoffs this year, but the Mets are showing signs that they will soon be able to do battle with the established NL East powers.”
When comparing the two rosters the similarities jump off the page.Both teams are led by an unquestioned MVP caliber player. The Mets are led by captain and third baseman David Wright and the Pirates by centerfielder Andrew McCutchen.
The two stars share not only a high level of play on the field, but affability, media savvy and leadership off of the field.
Mets manager Terry Collins said what every fan, teammate and coach thinks about the teams captain.
"He (Wright) personifies exactly what you want a major league player to be. Not just talent-wise, but his leadership," Collins told NJ.com in July.
Like Wright, McCutchen exemplifies what every player should be. In the midst of another losing season in 2012 McCutchen understood his role as a leader and talked about the teams future.
"Once that streak is beaten, you're going to want something else," McCutchen told Sports Illustrated in 2012. "Why not reach the playoffs and win the World Series? Why not do it all? Let's open some eyes, man."
2013 Mets position players
2012 Pirates players
David Wright, 3B
Andrew McCutchen, CF
Juan Lagares, CF
Starling Marte, LF
Marlon Byrd, RF
Garrett Jones, 1B
Eric Young Jr., LF
Jose Tabata, RF
Daniel Murphy, 2B
Neil Walker, 2B
Ike Davis, 1B
Pedro Alvarez, 3B
John Buck, C
Rod Barajas, C
Omar Quintanilla, SS
Clint Barmes, SS
Lucas Duda, LF/1B
Gaby Sanchez, 1B
Andrew Brown, OF
Alex Presely, OF
Josh Satin, IF
Jody Mercer, IF
Marlon Byrd is to the Mets this season as Garrett Jones was to the Pirates last season. Byrd has a triple slash line (AVG/OBP/SLG) of .285/.333/.512 while Jones had a slash line of .274/.317/.516. In their respective seasons, both veterans played some of the best baseball of their careers.
Juan Lagares and Starling Marte are both young outfielders whom play exceptional defense and started receiving more playing time in the second half of their respective seasons.Both lineups have three starters who aren’t everyday players. The Mets have John Buck, Omar Quintanilla and Eric Young Jr. and the Pirates have Clint Barmes, Jose Tabata and former Met Rod Barajas.
Also both teams have a d’Arnaud on the roster. The Pirates (Chase) and the Mets (Travis).
2013 Mets pitchers
2012 Pirates pitchers
Matt Harvey, SP
A.J. Burnett, SP
Jon Niese, SP
Wandy Rodriguez, SP
Dillon Gee, SP
Kevin Correia, SP
Zack Wheeler, SP
Gerrit Cole, SP
Jeremy Hefner, SP
Jeff Karstens, SP
Jenry Mejia, SP
Jeff Locke, SP
Bobby Parnell, RP
Joel Hanrahan, RP
Latroy Hawkins, RP
Jason Grilli, RP
*Gerrit Cole didn’t pitch in the Major Leagues in 2012
Like their hitting counterparts, the pitchers also share an unmistakable similarity.
Both pitching staffs are headlined by hard throwing righthanders, Harvey and Burnett respectively. Jon Niese, Dillon Gee and Jeremy Hefner compare well with Wandy Rodriguez, Kevin Correia and Jeff Karstens. All six pitchers are middle to back of the rotation starters who have had similar success.
The Mets and Pirates both have a young potential ace, Zack Wheeler and Gerrit Cole; the only difference here being that Cole didn’t debut in 2012. Both he and Wheeler are considered elite talents that will impact their teams for years to come.
The bullpen likely represents the largest disparity between the teams, but even so, there isn’t much difference. Bullpens are often in flux, the Mets and Pirates being no different, each trotting out nearly 20 relievers.
The similarities between the two teams run deep; both rosters have a mix of youth and experience and average over 28 years of age per player.
Statistics bear out an even deeper connection between the two teams.
*Stats courtesy of FanGraphs
Both teams hit and got on base at nearly an identical rate, while the Pirates hit for slightly more power. The similarities aren’t reserved to the plate. Their fielding and base running statistics are also nearly indistinguishable as shown in the Bill James stat: speed score which measures speed and base running and the stat fielding in runs above average (Fld).
*Stats courtesy of FanGraphs
The two teams gave up within .13 runs per nine innings of each other while having a near identical WHIP, Skill-Interactive ERA (SIERA) and line drive percentage. Looking deeper into the numbers, the Mets rotation was better than the Pirates, whereas the Pirates bullpen was better than their counterparts with the Mets. However, both pitching staffs as a whole had a similar amount of success.
The 2012 Pirates had a record of 79-83 (.488 winning percentage), the Mets at 57-66 still have a ways to go to reach that record, but with their improved play it would not be surprising to see them approach it as the season winds down.
Neil Huntington, 20 years Sandy Alderson’s junior, is at a place with his team where Alderson hopes to be at this team next season. Huntington’s emphasis on young pitching and by signing the right veterans, has created a winner, and Tampa Bay Rays’ general manager Andrew Friedman thinks Alderson and the Mets are on the right track.
“The Mets have a tremendous amount of young talent. I think those guys have done a tremendous job of acquiring some high-end young players that they can grow with, and I think that is extremely good at supplementing around those guys and also having enough good young depth,” Friedman told the New York Post in February.
Huntington didn’t rebuild solely through the draft, he was given a larger budget. The 2012 Pirates had a payroll of $51 million and the 2013 Mets have a payroll of $50 million after removing Jason Bay and Johan Santana’s salaries (both haven’t played an inning for the Mets all season).
The Pirates payroll rose 15 million dollars from 2012 to 2013 with acquisitions of Russell Martin and Fransisco Liriano. If the Mets are going to follow the Pirates lead they too must be willing to spend money on free agents this coming off-season.
Next year's team is slowly taking shape thanks to some strong performances in the big leagues and the promotion of prospects Wilmer Flores, Zack Wheeler and Travis d’Arnaud. The Mets must continue this surge of forward momentum, if they want to duplicate the 2013 Pirates' record.
“There’s a lot of good times to come,” David Wright told Mets.com after re-signing earlier this year.
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