I had a quick post last week about how the Red Sox having quality players at every position was the biggest reason for their success. The Pirates have been successful this year because of depth as well. They have a legitimate MVP candidate in Andrew McCutchen, one of the current great players in the game, but they have gotten contributions from several players this year. What is amazing is that so many of these players weren't valuable at all a year ago. Unlike the Red Sox, who got bounce-back contributions from players who were hurt or underused in 2012 like Shane Victorino, Stephen Drew, and Koji Uehara, the Pirates have gotten help from players who simply were bad.
Check out the production of these players last season:
-Russell Martin: .211/.311/.403, 24% CS, 1.8 WAR in 2012 (w/ NYY); .226/.327/.377, 40% CS, 4.3 WAR in 2013
-Mark Melancon: 45.0 IP, 6.20 ERA, 1.267 WHIP, 3.42 K/BB, -0.5 WAR in 2012 (w/ BOS); 71.0 IP 1.39 ERA, 0.958 WHIP, 8.75 K/BB, 2.0 WAR in 2013
-Marlon Byrd: .210/.243/.245, 1 HR in 153 PA, -0.5 WAR in 2012 (w/ CHC/BOS); .318/.357/.486, 3 HR in 107 PA, 1.0 WAR (after posting a 4.0 WAR w/ NYM through mid-August)
-Vin Mazzaro: 44.0 IP, 5.73 ERA, 1.682 WHIP, 1.37 K/BB, -0.2 WAR in 2012 (w/ KC); 73.2 IP, 2.81 ERA, 1.208 WHIP, 2.19 K/BB, 0.9 WHIP in 2013
-Francisco Liriano: 134.1 IP, 5.09 ERA, 5.0 BB/9, 1.1 HR/9 1.468 WHIP, -0.1 WAR in 2012 (w/ MIN/CHA); 161 IP, 3.02 ERA, 3.5 BB/9. 0.5 HR/9, 1.224 WHIP, 3.0 WAR in 2013
I know WAR is a bit reductionist, but I think it tells the correct story here - those five players produced 0.5 WAR for their teams in 2013 (the last four producing a combined -1.3). In 2013? 11.2, and 15.2 overall when including Byrd's time with the Mets. Did the Pirates get lucky or buy low? A little bit of both, it looks like. Melancon isn't this good, for example, but he was part of a generous package the team got in exchange for Joel Hanrahan, who was a complete bust with Boston. A rebound was to be expected, but not to this level. Same with Liriano. He was bad in 2012, but his home run rate was out of proportion with what he'd given up in the past. I'm guessing that Neil Huntington noticed that his HR/FB rate was 12.9% in 2012, while it was closer to 10% for his career - and the gamble paid off, as it was only 8.3% in 2013. Vin Mazzaro's career ERA is 33 points higher because of a single disastrous performance in 2011.
Without getting ahead of myself, it's probably worth noting that the Pirates shouldn't expect the same production from this group next year. But so what? It's not like they have big, long-term contracts. The Pirates, on a limited budget, astutely filled in a roster of buy-low extras, and a lot of them came through. It's a sensible blueprint for a fringe team looking to sneak into the playoffs.