Coming off of one of the most dreadful seasons in recent history, the Pirates were given very low odds to contend for the playoffs prior to kicking off the year in July. Between injuries, poor fundamental baseball, and underwhelming performances up and down their roster, Pittsburgh has managed to fall below that line of expectation. In fact, by winning percentage, they are one of the worst teams in baseball. Sure, if you are a Pirates fan, you have every right to be disappointed with the daily product taking the field. However, there have been bright spots that deserve to be recognized for their play thus far. That being said, here are my picks for the Bucs’ 2020 mid-season awards.
Gold Glove: OF Bryan Reynolds
While Reynolds certainly has not performed up to expectations at the plate to start the year, he has quietly been one of the best and most underrated defenders on the Pirates’ roster. He does not always get many opportunities with balls being hit to him, but when they are, he usually makes the most of the situation. Last season Reynolds ranked 53rd in the MLB (74th percentile) with 2 OAA (outs above average), according to MLB.com’s Baseball Savant. Outs above average, for outfielders, is a range metric that tracks how well a player can make plays through catch probability. In 2020, Bryan is above average in both sprint speed and outfielder jump as well, in the 76th and 63rd percentiles respectively. Reynolds is also tied for 14th in the entire league with 4 DRS (defensive runs saved) through 30 games. Statistics can sometimes tell the story, but just watching the 25-year old in left has been exciting as ever, whether he’s making a diving catch or throwing a runner out at the plate. He is only getting better in the field.
Best Rookie: UTL Phillip Evans
Evans was ruled out for the season after a collision with outfielder Gregory Polanco, but man did he ever seize the opportunity he was given by the Pirates early in 2020. Phillip was signed as a minor-league free agent by the Bucs’ front office this past offseason, and there were very little people that knew about him. He spent his entire career up to this point in the Mets’ organization, but received minimal playing time on the major league roster. He caught the eyes of Pittsburgh’s fanbase after launching a home run in an exhibition game between the Pirates and Indians. Once the season began, the Pirates offense struggled mightily, with Evans being one of the very few bright spots the team could turn to for production. Evans may have had some luck on his side with a .419 BABIP and only 45 plate appearances to his name, but you are never going to complain with a slash line of .359/.444/.487 with a wRC+ of 158. Pirates fans should be excited to see him return next season, where he has a chance to become a solid utility player for a team in need of talent.
Best Reliever: RHP Chris Stratton
Former GM Neal Huntington may have been mostly known for his infamous trade that sent RHP Tyler Glasnow, OF Austin Meadows, and RHP Shane Baz to the Rays in exchange for Chris Archer. However, he did occasionally strike gold with a player via waivers or a small trade who ended up panning out. One of those guys is Chris Stratton. While his 4.50 ERA this season is not very flashy, many of his advanced stats show that he has performed very well and even has the tools to be one of the best relievers in the league. First off, Chris sits in the 98th and 99th percentiles for fastball and curve spin respectively. Now, that shows you that he has great stuff, but it does not always tell you the whole story. Here are some numbers through 30 games that display how effective he has been: 3.33 FIP, 30.5 K% (76th %), 3.49 SIERA, and part of the 93rd percentile for xwOBA. These are only a few examples, but he is well above average in several other important stats that gauge a pitcher’s performance and value. Stratton is under contract through 2023, so he could very well be a key piece to the bullpen moving forward.
Cy Young: RHP JT Brubaker
This was a tough “award” to give out because of how disappointing the Bucs’ pitching staff has been thus far, but I gave Brubaker the edge here for his adequate performance thus far in his rookie year. Brubaker made the Opening Day 30-man roster out of the gate and finally made his Major League debut after being drafted in the 6th round of the 2015 MLB draft. Over the past few years, Brubaker has not been mentioned much in talks about prospects within the organizations due to being held back by injuries, but he was named the Pirates’ minor league pitcher of the year back in 2018. JT started out strong in the pen with 5+ scoreless innings with a high strikeout rate, but injuries within the Bucs’ rotation brought him to becoming a starter, his natural position, every five days. While he has not given Pittsburgh many innings in his starts, he has grinded out there, carrying a 3.91 FIP and not allowing more than three runs in each of his first four outings in the rotation. His top notch curve spin (86th %) is an indicator that work on his command could lead him to be successful in the future. The righty, who is only 26 years old with a lot of room to grow, should be exciting to watch heading into next season.
MVP: C Jacob Stallings
As much as I wanted to choose Colin Moran for this award, Jacob Stallings deserves high recognition for his play so far in 2020. Stallings is a defensive-minded catcher who showed promise last season in a small sample size. The Pirates received backlash for non-tendering former backstop Elias Diaz this past offseason, but Stallings has proved the front office right for their decision. Through 30 games, “Big Jake” ranks 2nd among all catchers in defensive WAR (3.9) and tops the entire list with 5 DRS, two important stats when measuring just how well a catcher has been performing behind the plate. He also steals many strikes with his impressive framing ability. Catchers typically are not offensively sound, but Stallings has actually been one of the better bats at the position this season. His slash line looked like this in the first half: .323/.397/.415, good for an .823 OPS. Jacob also averaged an exit velocity at 90.1 MPH to go with a 128 wRC+ and a total 0.9 WAR. It is certainly a bonus to have a catcher with plus offensive production. The Pirates are lucky to have talent at the position for the time being. At 30 years old for a catcher, he probably does not have too many good years left in him, but he is certainly an excellent bridge to the Pirates’ next catcher of the future.
NOTE: All of these stats, as previously mentioned, are through 30 games