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A Tale of Two Pirates: Comparing 2024 to Last Year’s Hot Start



Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Jared Jones throws during the first inning of a spring training baseball game against the Toronto Blue Jays Tuesday, March 5, 2024, in Bradenton, Fla. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

With April rounding to a close, it’s the perfect time to compare this year’s Pirates team—which raced out to a 9-2 start and the most wins in the National League through much of the first three weeks—with last year’s club, which enjoyed a similar hot start before falling back to earth.

Through 30 games, Pittsburgh holds a 14-16 record; through 30 games last season, the Pirates sat at 20-10, aided by a season-best seven-game winning streak in late April.

The Pirates slashed .264/.343/.449 through April 30 (29 games) last season, their .792 team OPS comfortably ahead of the league average .734 that season. Their pitching started out on a similar hot streak, posting a 3.55 ERA over 258.2 innings and striking out 8.7 batters per nine innings. Again, that’s a healthy way ahead of last year’s league average 4.33 ERA and 8.6 K/9, but the Pirates weren’t able to maintain that level of play for long.

Fast Forward to 2024

This year, the Pirates hold the league’s 22nd-best team batting average at .232 through 30 games, the 15th-best on base percentage (.316) and the No. 27 slugging percentage (.343), a far cry from their spring training power surge that saw them lead the league in home runs, making fans believe that the bats had finally turned the corner.

It’s worth noting that, to date, 2024 has been an exceptionally bad year for offenses around the league, with the MLB-average OPS sitting at .699, the lowest mark since 1992. The Pirates’ .659 margin sits a good chunk below that, of course, and their -10 run differential sits well behind last year’s +37 through 30 games. 

Surprisingly, the Pirates’ pitching has actually been a bit worse in 2024—largely because of bullpen blowups—despite the emergence of flamethrowing rookie Jared Jones. Their team ERA stands at 3.76, while their strikeouts per nine innings remain at that same 8.7 mark.

As things stand right now, the Pirates are on pace for 75.6 wins, right around last year’s final record of 76-86. Of course, there are plenty of differences between last season and this one. Oneil Cruz is healthy, despite his struggles at the plate; Jared Jones is contributing to the big league club, with 2023 first overall pick Paul Skenes likely only a step or two behind him; the Pirates haven’t suffered through the catastrophic bevy of arm injuries that helped tank last year’s campaign, despite the struggles of their once-bulletproof bullpen.

With five months to go in the season, Pittsburgh has plenty of time to turn things around… or to demonstrate that there’s a ways to go before they can close the book on their rebuild.

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