Pittsburgh Pirates Early Season Sustainability Index

The Pittsburgh Pirates’ 2017 season has been an interesting one in the early going. Here, we will gauge early season trends and their chances to continue in our sustainability index.

Welcome to the Pittsburgh Pirates Sustainability Index.

The Pirates have been a unique team full of interesting storylines borne out from individual and unit-specific performances over the season’s first two weeks. As the season wears on, some of these early trends will bloom into season-long realities – think Andrew McCutchen‘s 2016 season. Some will fade away as blips on the radar.

At this early point in the season – just eight percent of the team’s 162 games have been played – it can be difficult to tell which performances or trends have a chance to remain true through baseball’s long grind. Today we will try to shed some light on that uncertainty by gauging the sustainability of each.

We start with an obvious choice, and one factor that many pointed to as “make or break” for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2017.

Effective Starting Pitching

The 2017 Pittsburgh Pirates’ starting pitching unit has not been without its warts. Gerrit Cole left a bad taste in fans’ mouths with his Opening Day fifth inning blunder. Tyler Glasnow suffered through one of the worst starts by a Pirates starter in recent memory in his 2017 debut.  Chad Kuhl walked six batters in his opening salvo.

So yeah, there have been some less than desirable outcomes thus far for the above starters, but there has been success as well. Glasnow looked infinitely better – albeit still rough at times – in his second start, Cole bounced back with two consecutive six inning outings and Kuhl showed very well in a hastened make-up game versus the Red Sox with six strikeouts and zero walks.

Just from these three starters alone, the early vibes that the Pittsburgh Pirates rotation is giving off are somewhere between mild and warm & fuzzy.

Oh, and we have not yet mentioned Jameson Taillon and Ivan Nova, two pitchers who are executing pitches as well as anyone in the major leagues right now.

It all adds up to the Pirates putting forth effective starting pitching, which is one of the basic building blocks of success. If Glasnow can continue to improve in each start, this rotation can go from effective to formidable very quickly.

But is that sustainable?

The Case For Sustainability

  • The Pittsburgh Pirates rotation makes teams earn it, ranking fifth in the 15-team National League with 2.88 BB/9.
  • The unit also is stingy with big flies, at just 0.72 HR/9, good for third best in the NL.
  • With their new focus on pitching up in the zone, opposing teams may have difficulty gameplanning against Pirates starters, for awhile at least.

The Case Against Sustainability

  • Pirates starting pitchers rank 9th in the 15-team National League in hard-hit percentage at 30.7 percent, and that figure is carried by Glasnow’s surprising 16.7 percent rate.
  • Pirates pitchers carry the third highest line drive rate at 22.2 percent.
  • The unit has a swinging-strike rate of just 8.2 percent, tied with the Reds for 11th in the NL. Of all of the facts presented here, this is the most surprising. Expect a rebound to at least average here.


Next, we will take a look at a burgeoning fan favorite among Pittsburgh Pirates fans.


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