As we look back on the 2010s, it’s a great time to look at the Pirates that made the decade so great. Here are my Top Ten Pittsburgh Pirates of the Decade.
Note: For obvious reasons, Felipe Vazquez is being withheld from this list. Even though his talent and stats certainly put him with the best of the decade. What he did is despicable and the piece of human garbage that he is isn’t worth any recognition.
Now, on a much lighter note, back to the list.
The most memorable moment of the 2010s was that 2013 NL Wild Card game. Liriano gets bonus points for starting and winning that game. He was also the face of Ray Searage’s reclamation project pitchers. They were a big reason for the Pirates success in the early part of the decade. Overall, he had three strong seasons, before falling apart and being traded to Toronto in an obvious salary dump in 2016. He rebounded as a reliever in 2017 with Toronto, but wouldn’t find any success again till he returned to the Pirates as a reliever in 2019.
9. Neil Walker
The hometown kid never had an all-star appearance in his career. His time with the Pirates from 2009-2015 saw him be one of the team’s best run producers and most consistent presences in the lineup during the team’s three playoff berths. He made his debut in 2009, but only played in 17 games. He became a regular in the lineup in 2010 after moving to second base from the catcher position. From 2010-2015, he averaged a little over 69 RBIs a season with the Pirates. He won the Silver Slugger award in 2014 when he hit 23 home runs, drove in 76 RBIs and had a .271 batting average in 137 games.
8. Tony Watson
The first, but not last, reliever on this list. Watson takes a spot instead of the likes of Jason Grilli and Joel Hanrahan. Simply because Watson had longer, and better, success than the aforementioned two. Now with the San Francisco Giants, Watson spent parts of seven seasons with the Pirates. He had a below 2.00 ERA in both 2014 (1.63) and 2015 (1.91). He made his first, and only, all-star appearance in 2014 and was a key member of the back end of the bullpen in 2013 that, combined with Grilli and Mark Melancon, was arguably the best in baseball at the time.
Harrison was a two-time all-star in 2014 and 2017 with the Pirates. He was one of the more energetic players on the team. He finished ninth in MVP voting in 2014. His out-of-nowhere play saw him hit .315 and earn starting spots all across the ballfield. Without his play in 2014, the Pirates likely miss out on the playoffs that year. After that, he played well, but his numbers did go down, until he made his second all-star appearance in 2017, when he hit a career-high 16 home runs.
6. Gerrit Cole
Oh, what could have been if Gerrit Cole was told to pitch with his strengths. Cole is currently the best pitcher in baseball, but he wasn’t that when he was with the Pirates. While he was still their ace and the highest rated prospect to come through the organization in a long time, he didn’t see the same-type of success that he did with Houston, outside of the 2015 season
He struck out 202, won 19 games and had a 2.82 ERA which saw him finish fourth in the NL Cy Young voting. Other than that, Cole was a good starter for the Pirates and was moved to Houston where he developed into the best pitcher in baseball.
We’re at the point of the list where culture impact is starting to factor in heavily. After years of horrible catchers (looking at you Rod Barajas) the Pirates finally decided to spend in free agency and handed out their largest free agent contract in history, to that point, to Russell Martin. While he only hit .226 in his first year with the Pirates, and wasn’t an all-star in either of his two years with the team, Martin changed the entire game of baseball with his strong pitch-framing.
Not only that, he caught an astronomical 40% runners stealing in 2013 and 39% in 2014, giving him one of the strongest arms in the game. He was a clubhouse leader too, and a big reason the team adopted a winning culture. Not to mention that his home run in the 2013 NL Wild Card game with the Cueto chants ensuing because of it still holds fond memories in Pirates fans’ hearts.
4. AJ Burnett
If we’re doing this by numbers alone, then it could be argued that Burnett shouldn’t be on the list. However, the Pirates aren’t a franchise that can argue the importance in players on stats alone. Burnett is one of the faces of the culture change. A big name in MLB, despite never making an all-star appearance before his last season in Pittsburgh, Burnett was traded to the Pirates before the 2012 season from the New York Yankees. The move was clearly just meant to get him out of the Big Apple.
In Pittsburgh, he brought a type of attitude and swagger that made him beloved. He left Pittsburgh in 2014 before taking less money to return to the Pirates for his all-star season in 2015, something that would have been laughable during their 20-year losing stretch.
3. Mark Melancon
Mark “The Shark” Melancon was so dominant with the Pirates that their whole bullpen was nicknamed the Shark Tank. Melancon was never a high-strikeout pitcher for a reliever, but he was the token pitch-to-contact guy that the Pirates had success with during their short run of success from 2013-2015. His highest ERA was in 2015, also his second all-star season with the Pirates, when he finished with a 2.23 ERA. He led all of baseball in saves in 2015 with 51 and was arguably the best closer in baseball from 2014-2016. Only him and our #1 member on this list made at least three all-star games during their time with the Pirates.
Perhaps the most controversial player on the list, some fans will argue that Marte has disappointed. Others will argue that he’s been one of the team’s top players since his debut in 2011. That was when he hit a home run on his first career pitch to start the game against the Astros. Shockingly, Marte only has one all-star appearance (2016) and has won only two Gold Gloves (2015, 2016). This, despite having one of the best arms for an outfielder in all of baseball.
From 2013-2016 he was worth, at least, 4.7 WAR, making him and Mike Trout the only two outfielders to accomplish that feat in all of baseball. Furthermore, he has been one of the few bright spots in 2018-2019 as he had a 20-20 season both years, the only two of his career. While his PED suspension in 2017 was one of the biggest reasons that the success of the Pirates in the decade came to an end, there’s no denying his talent in the years that have followed.
Could there be another player to top this list? McCutchen was the face of the franchises’ resurgence in the early part of the decade and some people argue that his number should be retired because of that. The 2013 NL MVP finished top five in the NL MVP voting each year from 2012-2015. He was a five-time All-Star, four-time Silver Slugger and won a Gold Glove award in 2013. He led the league in hits in 2012 (194) and led the league in on-base-percentage (.410) in 2014. While he fell-off drastically in 2016 and didn’t rebound enough in 2017, which led to the Pirates downfall and his trade before the 2018 season, McCutchen was the face of the franchise and a once in a generation player for the Pittsburgh Pirates throughout his tenure.
Those are my Top 10 Pirates of the 2010s, would you add someone else?
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