While the Pittsburgh Pirates pitching staff has been impressive this season, the offense has struggled to score runs. Their 100 runs scored is ranked dead last in the Majors this season. They are near the bottom in other offensive categories. Their .222 average is ranked 22nd, while their .274 OBP and .345 SLG are both ranked 30th.
The Pirates are coming off three straight wins, which is the first time this season they have won three in a row. But they’ve done so by scoring no more than five runs in any of those three contests. The Bucs have gone 16-6 when they have scored just two runs or more in a game this season. They have, however, been held to one or zero runs in 12 of their first 35 contests.
“The guys that are going to help our offense are regulars. Those are the ones that we’ve got to get going,” General Manager Neal Huntington said. “There’s some subjective indicators with a few guys. There’s objective indicators with a few guys.”
Huntington mentioned how both veteran Rod Barajas and Clint Barmes, who are both hitting below .200 this season, should be seeing improvements at the plate. According to their BABIP, both should see a change in their at-bats.
“When you look at Barajas and Barmes’ batting average in balls in play, where it typically is, and where it is right now, if it was normalized they’re going to be within normal production,” Huntington said. “There’s every reason we believe that they are going to get better.”
Barajas has a .194 BABIP this year, which is low compared to his career .249 mark. Barmes has a .203 BABIP, which is also low compared to his career .278 mark.
But it’s not just those two that need to produce. Andrew McCutchen is the only player with an average above .300 (.339), and an OPS above .800 (.890). The second best average belongs to Neil Walker (.269) while the second best OPS belongs to Pedro Alvarez (.761). Casey McGehee and Nate McLouth were both acquired by the Pirates to help make a difference, but neither have impressed. Off the bench, the club are hitting a combined .210/.304/.309 in 81 at-bats.
“There’s no question we’ve got to get him going,” Huntington said of McGehee. “The impact is going to come from the regulars. Those are the guys that we’ve got to get going. Nate’s got to get going. Nate’s struggling with being a role player for the first time. Not getting consistent at-bats and game settings. And that’s a tough acclimation for any player. Nate’s going through it right now.”
The Pirates are just three games back in the National League Central, and one under .500. But that’s because the club’s pitching continues to keep them in games. Their team 3.12 ERA is ranked number two in the Majors, trailing just the Washington Nationals (2.77). At what point do you look to Triple-A or outside the organization for help on the offensive side?
Utility man Jake Fox has put up good numbers with Indy, a .287/.358/.458 line, but is not on the Pirates’ 40-man roster. Fox isn’t particularly a good defensive player, so his best asset with the club would be his bat.
Matt Hague and Jordy Mercer both have recently picked up at the plate, but playing part-time in the Majors could hinder their development.
Gorkys Hernandez could be an option as the club’s fourth outfielder if McLouth continues to struggle. While Hernandez won’t hit for much home run power, he could provide as an upgrade over McLouth’s .178/.260/.222 line until top prospect Starling Marte is ready.
As for outside the organization, Huntington realizes that isn’t an option this early in the season.
“As you look at history over the last five years, there aren’t trades made in April,” Huntington said. “There’s very few trades of substance made in May. And there’s still few trades made of substance in June. Our solutions are going to have to be made internal unless we’re going to be less than intelligent and dramatically over pay for somebody else’s bat. That’s just the way it is.”
“[Manager] Clint [Hurdle's] continued to believe that our guys are going to swing the bat. Our biggest adjustments are going to have to come from the inside. We’re certainly looking external, but the extra wild card has made it that much more of a challenge. There’s that fewer sellers our there. We’re going to have to get creative.”