Connect with us


Perrotto: Jim Leyland Has His Thoughts on 2024 Pirates



Jim Leyland, Pittsburgh Pirates, Derek Shelton

Jim Leyland hasn’t been in the Pittsburgh Pirates’ employ since walking away as manager following the 1996 season.

Though Leyland now works as a special advisor for the Detroit Tigers, he still closely follows the Pirates. He continues to live in Western Pennsylvania and has developed a friendship with current manager Derek Shelton.

There is certainly weight attached to Leyland’s opinions. He managed in the major leagues for 22 years and will be inducted into the Hall of Fame in July.

The Pirates are off to an 11-8 start and Leyland has been watching. He threw out the ceremonial first pitch on April 5 before the Pirates’ home opener and was again at PNC Park the following week when the Tigers visited for a two-game series.

The Pirates are hoping to contend this year. While Leyland won’t make predictions, he likes what he sees from his old team.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen with this team this year, and it’s certainly none of my business but this a very talented team,” Leyland said.

In some regards, today’s Pirates are hopeful of following the same track Leyland’s teams were on in the 1980s.

The Pirates went 64-98 in Leyland’s first season in 1986. They finished the following season by winning 27 of their last 38 games for a final record of 80-82.

That helped springboard a young team to an 85-75 record in 1988. After the Pirates slipped to 74-88 in 1989, they won the next three National League East titles. The franchise hasn’t captured a division crown since then.

The Pirates broke a string of four consecutive last-place finishes in the NL Central last season, winning 18 of their last 31 games to end the year with a 76-86 record.

Can that spur them to better things in 2024? Leyland thinks it’s possible.

“Sometimes you make a jump, and you make another little jump, and you have a little bit of a setback and then you take off again,” Leyland said. “We had a setback in ‘89, just before our division title in ‘90, where we got some guys hurt and we didn’t do as well. There’s a lot of things that can happen. You can never predict the future exactly. This is definitely on the right track.”

While the Pirates can still be considered in a rebuilding phase, there are higher expectations this season. Management has said it expects to contend for the Pirates’ first postseason berth since 2015.

The prevailing thought around baseball is that contention is likely in 2025 when the Pirates’ young talent has another year to mature. Leyland won’t rule out a pennant race coming to Pittsburgh this year.

“This is a very talented group of young players, and I remind people all the time — I was so proud to hear this, (former Dallas Cowboys coach) Jimmy Johnson was talking on Fox one day about football — and he talked about he wanted talent, not so much experience,” Leyland said. “That’s the way I was. I wanted talent. I remind everybody, there’s no age on a World Series trophy. They don’t put the age of the players on there. I always liked the talent and took my chances with that over sometimes the experience.”

Perhaps the biggest story of the young season for the Pirates is the development of rookie right-hander Jared Jones. Though Jones’ record is just 1-2, he has a 3.12 ERA through his first four career starts and an outstanding 32-2 strikeout/walk ratio.

Jones pitched five shutout innings against the New York Mets on Tuesday night in a no-decision in his most recent outing. He threw 50 of his 59 pitches strikes, a ratio nearly unheard of for a 22-year-old power pitcher.

“This kid is really, really a talented kid. This kid is really, really good,” Leyland said. Most of the good players I’ve ever had, in the biggest of moments, they were able to slow the game down, not speed it up. He seems like he is able to do that.”

John Perrotto is a columnist for Pittsburgh Baseball Now and has covered the Pittsburgh Pirates and MLB since 1988.

Subscribe Today!

Subscribe today!

PBN in your Inbox

Enter your email address to get all of our posts sent directly to your inbox.

Copyright © 2024 National Hockey Now. All rights reserved. In no way endorsed by the Pittsburgh Pirates or Major League Baseball.

Gambling problem? Call 1-800-GAMBLER (PA/IL) or 1-800-9-WITH-IT (IN only) or 1-800-BETS-OFF (IA only) or 1-800-522-4700 (CO Only) or TN REDLINE: 800-889-9789.