First Pitch: No One Is Hitting, Let’s Over-React

It was almost one year ago today that I wrote this article. The Pirates had played seven games, getting off to a 2-5 start. They had been shut out twice, and only scored more than two runs in one of those games. So far, the 2013 season looks to be starting off like the 2012 season. Horrible offense and great pitching. Somehow always getting the best pitchers a team has to offer. Having the hardest rated schedule in the early part of the season. Because of the similarities, I thought I’d give last year’s article and update for this year. The crossed out parts reflect the old, and the bold reflects the new. Everything else remains the same, including the title. And obviously the links and notes that follow. Although coincidentally the Pirates also got shutout when I wrote last year’s article, and Jameson Taillon had a great start that night, just like he did tonight. So obviously we’re in for a summer where the Pirates have a horrible offense for the first two months, have the best offense for the next two months, collapse down the stretch, all while Jameson Taillon is amazing in his first seven starts, struggles for the next two months, then is great down the stretch, including three strong starts after a late season promotion to Indianapolis.

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At his current pace, Russell Martin will have zero hits in 2013.

At his current pace, Russell Martin will have zero hits in 2013.

Looking over some of the stat lines for the Pirates in the early part of the season is not advised. Some of the hitting numbers are just horrible. In fact, almost all of the hitting numbers are horrible. Andrew McCutchen and Casey McGehee are the only The Pirates have no hitters with good numbers, and Michael McKenry if you count the 1.262 OPS he has in six at-bats.

Outside of those three, the numbers are horrible. Breaking down the guys with double digit at-bats plate appearances:

Neil Walker: .048 average / .139 OPS .125 average / .388 OPS

Rod Barajas: .059 / .176 Russell Martin: .000 / .176

Pedro Alvarez: .063 / .313 .111 / .222

Garrett Jones: .143 / .357 .154 / .308

Clint Barmes: .105 / .413 .167 / .500

Jose Tabata: .190 / .418 Starling Marte: .211 / .461

Alex Presley: .269 / .538 Gaby Sanchez: .077 / .277

Andrew McCutchen: .235 / .669

Some of those numbers are so bad that they make Presley’s .538 OPS look amazing Clint Barmes look like a good hitter. Overall, we’re still in the “small sample size” period of the season. The sample hasn’t been good, but it’s hardly a substantial amount of at-bats to make a sound opinion. Alex Presley leads Russell Martin and Starling Marte lead the team with 26 at-bats 20 plate appearances. Only three other players have 20+ at-bats more than 15 plate appearances.

That’s not stopping people from over-reacting to the early season numbers I don’t really know how much of a reaction the Pirates are getting. It seems like it’s either “here we go again” or the normal reaction you’d get to such a bad offense. But honestly, my brother is in town this weekend, and I rarely get to see him, so I wasn’t spending much time on Twitter while we watched the game. Pedro Alvarez should be in Triple-A. Rod Barajas and Clint Barmes should be on the bench. Garrett Jones should be cut. Neil Walker…well, he’s from Pittsburgh, so we’ll ignore the fact that he’s the worst hitter on the team. (I feel like this always still applies. It was Pedro Alvarez, after all, who cost the Pirates on Thursday with his strikeout. Forget that Walker followed with a game ending double play.)

This gets said all the time, but if this happened in the middle of June, no one would notice. It’s a week’s worth of stats. It happens all throughout the season. One bad week doesn’t result in changes in June, so it shouldn’t have the same effect now. And really, what solutions are there?

As an example, what would happen if you sent Pedro Alvarez down? Maybe you replace him with Casey McGehee, but who plays first base? The people calling for Alvarez are the same people calling for Jones. And they’re probably ignoring the poor numbers by Matt Hague in the process. You’re still in a situation where one of your starters at the corners is putting up poor numbers. Only now you’ve got Alvarez in Triple-A, where he doesn’t get the chance to learn how to hit major league pitching in the majors. We don’t have people calling for Alvarez to be sent down this year, and no one is suggesting Garrett Jones be released. Part of that is probably because we saw how things turned out last year. The Pirates will get out of this and play better, but that doesn’t make the start of the season and the horrible offense for the second year in a row less frustrating.

The reasonable thing to do would be to allow more time for a better sample size to emerge. At this point, suggesting that a player be sent down is about as ridiculous as suggesting that McGehee should be extended due to his .313 average and .875 OPS in 16 at-bats Starling Marte should be extended for having two hits tonight. Maybe we should save the transactions for when we get to the point where we’re not talking about a week’s worth of at-bats.

Links and Notes

**The 2013 Prospect Guide and the 2013 Annual are both available on the products page of the site. If you order them together, you’ll save $5. Get them both to use throughout the 2013 season.

**Prospect Watch: Taillon Throws Five Shutout Innings In Debut.

**Minor League Schedule: 4/7/13.

**Pirates Notebook: Updates on Morton, Liriano, Karstens.

**Pirates Shut Down by Kershaw, Shut Out 1-0.

**Draft Prospect Watch: Manaea Injury Update, Crawford With Shaky Outing.

Tim Williams

Author: Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with AccuScore.com, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/bryan.graham.773 Bryan Graham

    These guys “can” hit and will hit at some point, but I really don’t see a big over reaction here because the fact is that other the Cutch, they have 0 in the way of professional hitters. The Pirates are a team that when hot, can put up crazy good numbers, the problem is when they are not hot they would be better off fielding an over 40 softball team in the lineup. They also prove it every year with much higher strike out numbers than walk numbers. The Pirates have scored 3 runs in 5 games off guys not named Carlos Marmol (thank goodness for him). I guess the point I’m trying to make is that the lows for the Pirate hitters are far lower than that of another teams lows with more professional hitters.

    • kidic56

      “the point I’m trying to make is that the lows for the Pirate hitters are far lower than that of another teams lows with more professional hitters.”

      Seriously, FAR lower? How about BA for:

      Hamilton – Angels-.050
      Kemp – Dodgers-.056
      Ibanez – Mariners-.091
      Cano – Yankees-.111
      Helton – Rockies-.125
      Napoli – Boston-.130
      Howard – Phillies-.158

      Tim’s right. People shouldn’t be making a big deal out of the first 3% of the season already over. Looking over the chart, other than Martin, and not including Sanchez/ Presley, all of the other guys are batting above last years marks. Granted, not by much, but, it is still too early to be taking down the Jolly Roger and hoisting the white flag.

      • http://www.facebook.com/bryan.graham.773 Bryan Graham

        You named 1 guy on a handful of teams struggling. My point is, most of those teams, if not all have hitters that take a better approach to hitting than the Pirates do as a whole. Therefore you don’t see the situation the Pirates have where everybody is struggling and have been nearly no-hit 4 times in 5 games. It’s not just a bad coincidence that everybody is struggling, they have a history of it. Their lows as a team are just too low. Hopefully this doesn’t last much longer and they can start 1 of their hot streaks.

  • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 Lee Young

    GREAT article!

  • http://www.facebook.com/bob.martin.9003 Bob Martin

    Great article, but the last time I checked the Pirates finished under .500 last year and were no hit once. So there is reason to be concerned. This team might eventually average more than 2 hits a game unlike this series but it might be to late to save season #21 from happening. That’s why it’s ok to panic because of the Pirates track record.

  • emjayinTN

    A good time to sit back and count to 10 before getting excited. Greinke, Kershaw, and Samardzjia is capable to be in their class when he is on. They won the game against Jackson, but then made Travis Wood look like Clayton Kershaw by getting only 1 hit in 6 innings. That is inexcusable. We will see what they do from here – is there another “Zoltan” somewhere in our future? Just for grins and giggles watch how many batters are actually trying to take the ball straight out and the number who are already turned and unable to hit anything on the outer third of the plate except weak pop ups or weak dribblers. Of course we could always ask the opposing pitchers to throw the ball on the inner third for us – we need to get back to basics and do that very quickly.

  • keithconto

    Thats the point I have been trying to make about last years mirage. It took an ENTIRE TEAM being hot for it to be succesful. As fun as it was watching them beat the he// out of teams during that time, how realistic was it to expect that group of players to continue that ?

    Players come back down to earth eventually. For a player like Cutch it still means hitting over .300. For the rest ? It’s what you saw in Aug. and Sept.

    For the team it means losing baseball. Need better players.

  • http://atung.net/ Steve Zielinski

    Embrace the suck.

  • https://profiles.google.com/105668650510920614054 Brian Bernard

    IMO there have been plenty of errors to go around thus far. Clint not pulling Sanchez after getting out of the fifth, Marte and others making some dumb running mistakes that little leaguers no better than to make. Also, I agree with EMten on the lack of patience and approach at the plate. So, yes, we have faced some excellent pitching talent, but I saw many players look at a fastball right down the middle, then swing at some bullcrap a foot outside. What is the approach – Jay Bell? I remember him swinging at pitches a foot over his head, what a poor choice for a hitting coach.
    I loved Burnett last year and this year I’m impressed with all but McDonald… good results, but seemed like same stuff that got crushed last year to me.

    The solution? Not sure there is one as EM said, wait till they get hot and hope they stay hot – otherwise they better start laying off the garbage pitches and swinging at the strikes.

  • http://twitter.com/BuccoMike BuccoMike

    Tim, your embracing a bad start. 15-36 in the last 51 games last year and what a 1-4 start this year. This Pirates team doesnt have any real good obp guys outside of a-cutch who normally struggles in cold weather months (april and part of may) before he heats up. Career obp – cutch .374 , martin .352 (about .330 over the last 3 years), gaby sanchez .332, (about .290 over the last 3 years), neil walker .338, bum jones .320, marte .295 in limited at bats, travis snider .307, jose tabata .339 (#2 hitter numbers- .294 , .350 obp, .744 ops) , barmes .298 obp, mckenry .320 obp , josh harrison .279, inge .303, – need i go on. Pirates need to trade for contact hitters that draw walks and arent hacking at everything and everything or move some hitters around.

  • https://profiles.google.com/103210491283369579291 Matthew McNally

    The point is not just that the hitting is awful. Examine the context in which that awful hitting is occurring. The pitchers have made 5 starts and allowed 8 runs, while the bullpen has allowed only 2 runs in 5 games. So naturally, this Pirates team is 1-4, producing barely one run a game while allowing only two runs per game. With this pitching, it is not unreasonable to say that the Pirates should be 5-0 or 4-1. We saw last year how spoiling good pitching early came back to bite the buccos. They must capitalize on the good pitching now and win the games that only require 2-3 runs, because later in the season (when the pitching inevitably declines) it will take 5, 6, 7, or more runs to pull out a win. It only takes a few of these games early to change the landscape of the season. From here on out they must play 4 games over .500 to finish above .500. Sure, the hitting is small sample size stuff, but it is also frustrating stuff. The pitching is putting the team into what likely amounts to some of the most winnable situations they will face all year. At this point mediocre hitting will win games, but even that has been too much to ask.

  • http://www.facebook.com/john.lease.7 John Lease

    We have a winner for the first full blown apologia of the season! Yay!

    • meatygettingsaucy

      No. We have a winner for common sense on behalf of a skilled writer who follows the system and major league team much closer than any of us.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=548330060 Steve Smith

    No one’s hitting, let once again not react or adapt; simply remind all the fans out their that this regime is turning the ship utilizing advanced analytics. Yet, I am certain at some point they will hit the ball during the season, but yet again Huntington has created a team that is well behind the division leaders and the league in general. Has anyone looked at the AAA roster? Why is there not one 3rd baseman with potential in our system???

    News flash: the sabremetrics team he has assembled over the past few seasons is antiquated at best. Beane has said so himself, sabremetrics does not have the impact it did ten years. Yet Huntington continues to rattle off statistical data that all other teams have access to and have created adaptive strategies for. This regime reminds me of a scouts searching the Negro leagues for talent after 1948.

    Wake me up when Huntington is fired.

  • https://profiles.google.com/107500598404660809214 Kerry Writtenhouse

    I hope you guys don’t have kids. If you do, I can’t imagine the message you must be sending. The first time your kid gets a bad grade, do you say “that’s okay Johnny, you suck at math.” The point is simply, each year is a different year. This version at least deserves a chance to prove they do suck like their predecessors.

    It’s been 5 games out of 162. Against 3 guys who have cy potential.

    • http://www.piratesprospects.com Tim Williams

      I don’t have kids, but I do know the importance of raising kids is much greater than the importance of following a baseball team.

      • https://profiles.google.com/107500598404660809214 Kerry Writtenhouse

        The negativity of some of your followers suggest otherwise.

  • TNBucs

    Great idea to go back to an article from last year. I think they’ll break out of it sooner than they did last year, but if this lasts much longer it should raise a question about how they use spring training to prepare their hitters.

    In early March some were complaining about wasting AB’s on guys that weren’t going to make the team (Hawpe being the main example, but Presley, Pie, and others also being in the conversation). Perhaps our regulars needed those AB’s?