Analysis: 2021 Pirates vs. 2010 Pirates

By Joe Smeltzer

For as bad as the Pirates have been since 1993– get your jokes out now– they’ve only lost 100 games twice. 

This year’s team might be No. 3. 

One day, I was looking through a Twitter account called “PGH Sports History,” which posts newspaper articles to coincide with the day’s date. I stumbled upon an article the great Pittsburgh Post-Gazette columnist Bob Smizik wrote in 2001. Smizik compared the 2001 team (62-100) to the 1985 Pirates (58-104). 

I decided to pay homage to Smizik by doing the same type of comparison– a position-by-position breakdown– with this year’s team and the last Pirates squad to lose 100, the 57-105 2010 Bucs. Through 58 games, the 2021 Pirates are 23-35. The 2010 Pirates at this point? Also 23-35.

Catcher: Jacob Stallings vs. Ryan Doumit

Doumit was a good hitting catcher and a well-liked player. He also wouldn’t throw out John Goodman if he tried to steal second base. 

Stallings is a defensive-minded backstop who can hold his own with the bat. Through a limited sample in 2021, Stallings has an OPS+ of 110 (10 points about the league average) and continues to do his thing behind the plate. For reference, the offensive-minded Doumit’s OPS+ in 2010 was 100.

Doumit wasn’t the two-way player that Stallings is, and as a result, the Pirates’ current masked man is the winner.

Advantage: 2021

First base: Colin Moran vs. Garrett Jones

Both Jones and Moran are/were decent offensively with respectable but not spectacular power. Neither one of them is/was anything to write home about on defense.

At his best, Jones put up numbers Moran hasn’t touched yet, but these comparisons are based on 2010 and 2021 only. In 2010, Jones was mediocre, equalling Doumit’s 100 OPS+. Moran’s OPS+ through just 33 games in 2021 is 126. By the end of the year, it might be clear one way or another which one of these two was better in their respective year. For now, however, because of the similarities between the two players, and because Moran spent three weeks on the IL, thus further limiting his sample, it’s too close to call.

Push

Second base: Adam Frazier vs. Neil Walker

 Right now, Fraizer is on track to eclipse Walker’s 2010 numbers in several offensive categories, such as batting average, on-base percentage and OPS+, and is also a better defensive player than “The Pittsburgh Kid.” 

Frazier will probably be gone come August, which would end any chance he has of having a better overall Pirates career than Walker. But if Frazier ends June with his numbers close to what they are right now; .332 average, .394 OBP, 140 OPS+ and the NL leader in doubles, he’ll have the clear edge over 2010 Walker.

Advantage: 2021

Third base: Ke’Bryan Hayes vs. Pedro Alvarez

No doubt about this one. The best version of “El Toro” never lived up to his No. 2 overall pick billing, and rookie Pedro was hardly the best version. The growing pains hit the young bull hard, and Alvarez ended his first season striking out 119 times in just 347 at-bats. 

Hayes, recently back from injury, has only played five full games in 2021, but we saw enough of him in 2020 to know that he can be a star that leads the Pirates back to respectability. Unlike Alvarez, he can also throw a ball across the diamond to first base. 

Advantage: 2021

Shortstop: Kevin Newman vs. Ronny Cedeno 

Neither. 

Advantage: Neither

Left Field: Jose Tabata vs. Four random dudes 

 “Necklips” wins this one by default. 

The current Pirates don’t have a full-time left fielder. Bryan Reynolds started the season there. Had he stayed, 2021 would probably have the edge. Because of ineptitude from Anthony Alford and Dustin Fowler in center, Reynolds had to move over, and that’s created a carousel. Over this season, Ka’ai Tom, Philip Evans, Ben Gamel and Ildemaro Vargas have given it a go, and none of them have been good. 

Tabata was a top prospect when he got the call to the majors at just 21 years young in 2010. He had a promising rookie season that, unfortunately, he never built on, and he played his last big league game at 26. 

Disappointing as Tabata’s career in Pittsburgh was, I think if Pirates fans had to choose between young Jose and the current crop, they’d take the former. The former, by the way, is back in the game… sort of, with the West Virginia Power. 

Advantage: 2010

Centerfield: Bryan Reynolds vs. Andrew McCutchen

This one is closer than one might think. Remember, I’m judging these players based on what they did in either 2010 or 2021, not their entire career. 

 2012-15 ‘Cutch is much better than 2021 Bryan Reynolds. But what about 2010 ‘Cutch? In his first full big-league season, McCutchen was already the face of the franchise but wasn’t yet the superstar he’d become two years later. Nonetheless, he was still the best player on baseball’s worst team, hitting .286 with 16 homers and 56 RBI, with a career-high 33 stolen bases. 

Reynolds has been excellent in 2021, currently ranking seventh in MLB in doubles and holding a 144 OPS+. It’s tight, but Andrew McCutchen is Andrew McCutchen. 

Advantage: 2010

Right field: Gregory Polanco vs. Lastings Milledge

The number of words in this section will probably be greater than the combined baseball IQ of these two. Both of these guys are/were inept in the field, below-average at the plate and known for head-scratching decisions in both areas. As disappointing as his MLB career has been, the edge goes to Polanco because of his superior power numbers. In 651 at-bats with the Pirates, Milledge managed just eight home runs, and Polanco has five in 47 games this year. Also, “El Coffee” is 29 and still playing in the majors, and Milledge was out of baseball at 26. 

Edge: 2021

Starting rotation: Tyler Anderson, JT Brubaker, Mitch Keller, Trevor Cahill and Chad Kuhl vs. Paul Maholm, Zach Duke, Jeff Karstens, Ross Ohlendorf and Charlie Morton

Ohlendorf may well have been the best starting pitcher on the 2010 Pirates. He went 1-11. Maholm had the lowest FIP (4.18). He also had a 5.10 ERA and a WHIP of 1.565. Four of the five starters gave up more than 10 hits per nine innings.

This year’s rotation isn’t good, but I’d like to think it’s better than 2010. Brubaker is promising, and Anderson was excellent in the first month of the season, so there’s some potential. 

Keller has more upside than anybody on the 2010 staff, and even his current 6.65 ERA is lower than Morton’s 7.57.

Edge: 2021

Bullpen: Richard Rodriguez, Kyle Crick, Sam Howard, David Bednar, Clay Holmes etc. vs. Octavio Dotel, Evan Meek, Joel Hanrahan, Javier Lopez, D.J. Carrasco etc.

More than five men make up an MLB bullpen, but how many unmemorable baseball names do you want to read today?

Both the 2010 and 2021 teams had/have good bullpens, which further proves how useless a good bullpen is without a good team around it. Meek was an all-star in 2010, just as Rodriguez could well be in 2021. Hanrahan took over as closer when Dotel was traded at the deadline and excelled in that role in 2011 and ’12. Lopez was an effective left-handed specialist who went on to help the Giants win a World Series that fall. 

It’s close, but because of the youth and overall upside of 2021, I give this current group a slight edge. 

Advantage: 2021

Conclusion

So, could this 2021 team be as bad as the 2010 Pirates? It’s possible. Right now, however, based on personnel, your final score is 6-2-2 in favor of 2021, with 2010’s only clear advantage being in the outfield.

At the end of the day, both teams stink. 

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