In the last two days the Pirates have been one hit and lost a 5-2 game against the San Diego Padres. That’s the same San Diego team that is 70-80 this season, and 29-47 on the road. There was a time this year where the lack of offense the last two nights would have been met with loud cries of “Trade for a bat!”, with no regard for the cost of that bat. That time was actually a few weeks ago, before the Pirates added Marlon Byrd and Justin Morneau.
The biggest misconception about mid-season trades comes with the value those trades provide. Most people grossly over-estimate the impact that an individual player will have. The Pirates had one of the worst offenses in the league prior to the trades for Byrd and Morneau. That’s a team effort, and not something that would change with the addition of 1-2 players.
Articles are written all the time leading up to the trade deadline showing that the value of players is lower than the expected value of players. Yet every year that misconception about value lives on. The thought was always that if the Pirates add a bat, they’ll never have to lose games 1-0 games or struggle to score runs against the Padres. Prior to any trade, it’s hard to argue against this. You’ve got the reality of a bad Pirates offense, and the optimistic view that new players will solve all of the offensive problems. Even with stats that show how previous deals worked out, it’s impossible to argue against these optimistic views.
Now we actually have the stats, and the games are going on. We’re able to see the actual impact that Marlon Byrd and Justin Morneau have had on the offense, and we’re able to see if that has made the massive difference everyone thought it would.
Prior to the trade for Marlon Byrd, the Pirates combined for a .245/.313/.392 line. That wasn’t good, ranking near the bottom of all MLB teams. Those numbers create a situation where you have to try and upgrade the offense, but no one player will make an impact. The Pirates got two players, raising a lot of hope that the offense would be better. After Justin Morneau joined the lineup, the Pirates combined to go .233/.300/.363. That is worse than the numbers before Byrd and Morneau showed up.
There are some other factors involved here. For one, Starling Marte played most of the season prior to the Byrd trade, and has only played one game since the Morneau trade. Marlon Byrd has been excellent, with an .857 OPS since the trade. However, he’s just replacing the production lost by Starling Marte. Jose Tabata had a great August, but has a .700 OPS so far in September. You also have guys like Russell Martin (.357 OPS), Pedro Alvarez (.562 OPS), and Morneau (.637 OPS) struggling since the addition of Morneau.
The irony here is that Morneau was needed because Garrett Jones put up a .636 OPS in the month of August, after struggling at other points this season. Now Morneau has an OPS that is one point higher than the August numbers from Jones. In September Jones has a .492 OPS, so it’s not like he has been doing any better. Morneau has been getting some key at-bats against left-handers, which shouldn’t be happening since he’s a platoon option. That still leaves him with a .663 OPS against right-handers and a .558 OPS against lefties.
You could use the “small sample size” argument against these numbers, but a month ago everyone was going nuts over a two week hot streak from Morneau in the beginning of August, and demanding that the Pirates trade for him immediately, no matter the cost. Morneau has been a streaky player all year. Prior to that big month of August, he had a .596 OPS in July. The .821 OPS in June was good, but the .750 OPS in May wasn’t as good, and the .688 OPS in April was poor.
That has been the case with the entire Pirates offense. They have been a very boom or bust group, with very few consistent hitters. Every hitter in the lineup has had a down month at the least. Here is a look at the months with a down OPS.
Russell Martin – Martin had a .664 OPS in May, a .675 OPS in June, and a .357 OPS this month. His OPS in July was .748, and .717 in August, but you’d take those with his defense. I would take the May and June numbers with his defense, but September has been horrible.
Garrett Jones – Jones had a .634 OPS in May, a .657 OPS in June, a .636 OPS in August, and a .492 OPS in September. Basically April and July were good.
Gaby Sanchez – Sanchez might be one of the most consistent hitters on the team. His monthly splits: .884 OPS in April, .717 in May, .737 in June, .725 in July, .728 in August, .830 in September. Those numbers in the middle don’t look great, but remember that those are overall numbers. The struggles from Jose Tabata, Travis Snider, and everyone else in right field led to Garrett Jones and Gaby Sanchez playing everyday, when neither is an everyday player. On the season Sanchez has a .991 OPS against lefties and a .622 OPS against right handers. As long as he is strictly a platoon option, he’s good.
Neil Walker – He had a .693 OPS in April, .679 in June, and a .429 this month. He has been platooned more often lately, but that doesn’t explain the down month this month.
Jordy Mercer – Shortstops don’t really put up big offensive numbers, unless they’re stars. So to penalize Mercer for putting up an OPS in the .760 range or better seems wrong. Instead I’ll point out that he had a .671 OPS in July and a .704 OPS in August, which was mostly fueled by carrying his struggles over from July. He picked up the pace in the second half of the month.
Pedro Alvarez – I’m just going to list all of his months and let you decide: .560 OPS in April, .794 in May, 1.060 in June, .760 in July, .711 in August, .562 in September. I still feel the problem here is that he should be a platoon player. He’s got an .828 OPS on the season against right-handers, and a .532 OPS against lefties. I’m sure those numbers are pretty consistent by month.
Starling Marte – Marte has been more consistent than most, but had a .676 OPS in May, and a .672 OPS in July.
Andrew McCutchen – The only down month for McCutchen was his .731 OPS in April. If you want to call his May and June down because he was below .900, then that’s just being unreasonable.
Marlon Byrd – He had a .657 OPS in April. I’m including him because we know the other right fielders have been far from consistent. Also, I mentioned Morneau above, so Byrd is the only guy that hasn’t been mentioned. A big reason why I liked Byrd more than Morneau is because he has been so consistent.
The Pirates offense today is the same that it has always been. It’s a very streaky offense with a lot of boom or bust players. There will be periods when several players are busting at the same time. There will be other periods where several players are all booming at once. The team has largely been built around pitching and defense, which has kept the team contending no matter what the offense does.
The trades for Byrd and Morneau haven’t made a big impact. Byrd has made a big individual impact, but that has basically replaced Starling Marte. With Marte back, the Pirates should see some sort of upgrade going forward, although it won’t be enough to change the overall look of the offense. Morneau has been just another streaky player, which is what he was before the trade. He was just on a hot streak when he cleared waivers, which made everyone forget that Garrett Jones actually out-performed Morneau one month earlier.
The hope for the Pirates going forward is that the pitching and defense holds up, and the offense gets hot at the right time. Stranger things have definitely happened.