First Pitch: The Problem With the Pirates Offense

Dave Cameron of FanGraphs had a few interesting tweets about the Pirates offense this morning.

Lately it seems like the Pirates can’t hit anything, and that’s probably because they’ve scored one run in three of the last four games. But the offense hasn’t been terrible. Cameron uses Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+), which measures a players runs created to the league average. The league average is 100, and every point above or below is a percentage point. Thus, the 134 for Andrew McCutchen means he is 34% above the league average, while the 75% from Travis Snider means he is 25% below the league average in runs created.

Cameron highlighted the guys who are getting a lot of playing time, although if you look beyond those guys, the bench looks pretty horrid. The Garrett Jones (104 wRC+) / Gaby Sanchez (115) platoon takes up one bench spot. Jose Tabata (135) and Travis Snider (75) take up another. From there, it’s not good.

Michael McKenry (59)

Clint Barmes (43)

Brandon Inge (22)

All three of those guys have been horrible offensively this year. McKenry has been horrible on defense, and if Tony Sanchez didn’t have some recent throwing problems, the Pirates could probably easily make a change. They might even consider that soon. Clint Barmes and Brandon Inge are basically the same player. Neither have value offensively, both have value defensively and for their leadership, and the Pirates really only need one of them on the bench. If you look at the actual wRC from Inge, the number is 2. He has been worth two runs offensively this year. By comparison, “Awful” is usually set at 40. Inge is on pace for 4 wRC this year, which means if the Pirates replaced him with an “Awful” hitter, they’d see an upgrade of 36 wRC, or about 18 over the remainder of the year.

It seems the simple solution is to upgrade the bench. But that doesn’t address a bigger issue with the Pirates offense. Take a look at the following starting lineups against left handers and right handers.

VS Right Handed Pitching

C – Russell Martin (113 wRC+)

1B – Garrett Jones (114)

2B – Neil Walker (130)

SS – Jordy Mercer (64)

3B – Pedro Alvarez (140)

LF – Starling Marte (108)

CF – Andrew McCutchen (124)

RF – Jose Tabata (168)

Jones has been struggling lately, which has brought his numbers down. Mercer is below average, although he’s an upgrade over Barmes (58 wRC+). Jose Tabata’s numbers are amazing, but come with a sample of 78 PA. By comparison, Travis Snider has an 84 wRC+ in 219 PA, so he’s not really a good option. Overall, this is a good lineup against right-handers.

Jose Tabata is one of three starters that struggles against left-handed pitching. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Jose Tabata is one of three starters that struggles against left-handed pitching. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

VS Left Handed Pitching

C – Russell Martin (129 wRC+)

1B – Gaby Sanchez (177)

2B – Neil Walker (25)

SS – Jordy Mercer (225)

3B – Pedro Alvarez (76)

LF – Starling Marte (192)

CF – Andrew McCutchen (182)

RF – Jose Tabata (62)

With left-handed pitching numbers, you’re going to see some small sample sizes. For example, Jordy Mercer has just 39 PA against lefties. Most of the full season starters are around 70 PA. Martin, Sanchez, Marte, and McCutchen all have good track records against lefties, either in the majors or minors, so there’s not much reason to doubt them.

There are three key spots here where the Pirates could upgrade. Neil Walker’s numbers are lowered due to sample size, but he’s been bad in his career vs lefties, with an 80 wRC+. We’re starting to see a lot of teams turning Walker around by bringing in left-handers, so other teams are catching on to his issues.

Pedro Alvarez is right around his career totals. He’s a 76 wRC+ this year, and 74 in his career. I noted before the season that he had shown improvements in his power against lefties. Those improvements seem to have stopped.

2010: .114 ISO

2011: .132 ISO

2012: .171 ISO

2013: .159 ISO

He saw a power increase two years in a row, but that hasn’t increased again this year. No one likes the “Platoon Pedro Alvarez” talk. It is usually countered with his season numbers (.833 OPS, 23 HR). However, that production comes mostly from right-handers. Alvarez has an .884 OPS against right-handers, with 20 of his homers in 220 AB (11.0 AB/HR). He has a .629 OPS and 3 homers in 69 AB against left-handers (23.0 AB/HR). There’s some power against lefties, but he actually hits for average and gets on base against right-handers. You’re still getting almost all of his production in a platoon, and the production you’d lose would probably be replaced and improved upon by someone who could hit left-handers.

Finally there’s Jose Tabata (62 wRC+ vs LHP) and Travis Snider (-6). Neither have been good in their careers against left-handers. Unless the Pirates wanted to carry five outfielders, they would probably have to decide on one of these two. Tabata has been performing better against right-handers, although in a smaller sample. No matter who you choose, you’re probably going to need a platoon. Or just an everyday right-fielder to avoid having four platoon players on your bench.

Upgrade From the Top Down

A lot of people will point to the bench problems and say “fix the bench”. But that shouldn’t be the focus. The focus should be upgrading more important parts of the team. If you add an everyday right-fielder, then you move Jose Tabata and/or Travis Snider to the bench, which would be an upgrade over Brandon Inge and/or Clint Barmes.

If you add a platoon player, you’re upgrading the lineup when the team plays left-handers, which has more impact than upgrading a bench spot. But since Inge isn’t hitting anyone, you’d also upgrade a bench spot when the team is playing right-handers.

I know that it draws more attention when there’s a close game, and guys like Inge or McKenry are the only options available off the bench late in the game. However, a bigger impact could be made by improving the lineup against left-handers. Right now the Pirates lineup has some holes against lefties. When a team brings in a lefty reliever, then the Alvarez/Walker/Jones trio is neutralized. You can bring in Gaby Sanchez for Jones, but there’s no one to counter that move for Walker or Alvarez. And even if you’re talking about hitting against right-handers, the platoon options might not be great, but they would certainly be better than what the Pirates have now from their bench.

Links and Notes

**Download the newest episode of the Pirates Prospects Podcast: P3 Episode 12: Prospect Analysis on Jameson Taillon, Luis Heredia, and Tyler Glasnow. Also includes an interview with 2013 first round pick Reese McGuire.

**The newest episode of the Pirates Roundtable is up. This week we had Jim Rosati from North Side Notch, Ed Giles from In Clemente Weather, and David Manel of Bucs Dugout stopped by.

**2013 Pittsburgh Pirates Draft Pick Signing Tracker.

**2013 Pittsburgh Pirates International Signing Tracker.

Prospects

**Prospect Watch: Taking a Closer Look At Tyler Glasnow’s Impressive Numbers.

**Minor League Schedule: Heredia Looks To Continue Strong Start To Season.

**DSL Prospect Watch: Losing Streaks For Both Pirates Affiliates.

Pirates

**Pirates Collect Only Three Hits to Lose Fourth-Straight Game.

**Pirates Notebook: When Will the Bucs Play the Best 25?

**Pirates Place Neil Walker on Disabled List, Recall Josh Harrison.

**Pirates Had a Scout Watching Matt Garza.

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.

Share This Post On