The 2021 season was a trying one for the Pittsburgh Pirates who finished in the cellar of the National League Central with a record of 61-101. That record marked the fourth-worst in Major League Baseball behind Baltimore, Arizona and Texas. The Pirates have now posted a losing record in three straight seasons and five out of the last six years since last reaching the postseason in 2015.
In a season as disappointing as it was, it’s easy to recall the negatives, and there was a lot that didn’t go right for the Pirates – but it wasn’t all bad all the time. Between some player performances, feel-good moments and a brief look into the future, the 2021 season had some memorable moments for the Bucs – but none bigger than the performance of Bryan Reynolds.
Reynolds entered the 2021 season looking to rebound from a rough 2020 campaign in which the switch-hitter managed just a .189 batting average and a .632 OPS – a very uncharacteristic season for Reynolds who had hit at essentially every level throughout his professional and collegiate career.
After making some adjustments at the plate, to say Reynolds rebounded would be an understatement. In an effort worthy of receiving some National League MVP votes, Reynolds played in 159 games for the Pirates, slashing .302/.390/.522, becoming the first Pirate since Andrew McCutchen in 2014 to finish a season with a batting average of .300+ and an OPS of .900+. The Bucs’ center fielder hit 35 doubles, a share for the league-lead eight triples, 24 home runs and drove in 90 runs.
According to Fangraphs, Reynolds posted the fifth-highest offensive WAR and fifth-highest total fWAR among National League position players, trailing Bryce Harper, Juan Soto, Fernando Tatis Jr. and Trea Turner – some pretty good company. Reynolds was named an All-Star for the first time in his career, starting for the National League in centerfield in the Midsummer Classic at Coors Field.
With the center field situation in flux to start to season, Reynolds made the switch from left field to center in late-April, and was able to hold his own for the most part. Reynolds profiles better as a left fielder, but the Pirates had a bigger need in center and the 26-year-old took the reigns. While the advanced metrics indicated that Reynolds rated as a little bit below league-average, Reynolds made his fair share of highlight-reel plays, and was one of just six Major Leaguers to play enough innings in center field to be considered as “qualified.”
In a year that largely consisted of offensive struggles for the Pirates’ lineup, Reynolds was the anchor leading the club in just about every offensive category. He also finished top 10 in the National League in batting average, on-base percentage, OPS, hits, doubles and walks.
Heading into 2022, the Pirates are counting on Reynolds to continue performing at this level while anchoring the middle of their lineup. If 2020 was an anomaly and Reynolds is the player he has shown to be in 2021 and 2019, the Pirates have a star on their hands for years to come.