The Pittsburgh Pirates and Minnesota Twins needed 13 innings to decide their game Wednesday night and the Twins took home a 4-3 win on the strength of Joe Mauer’s first home run of the season. The game ended as Pedro Alvarez struck out attempting to check-swing with Andrew McCutchen on second base.

Pittsburgh is now 0-6 in extra-inning affairs this season and 5-10 in one-run contests, having already played 15 of them just 40 games into the 2015 season.

“We haven’t been able to have that knockout punch or find that separation punch when we have a little bit of a lead to stretch things out,” Hurdle said.

The big focus for the Pirates since the beginning of Spring Training was a commitment to improving the way they hit with runners in scoring position, the same as they looked to improve their on-base percentage in 2014.

In Wednesday’s game, the Pirates went 3 for 9 and drove in a run with men on second and/or third. But as Hurdle mentioned, they couldn’t get the big hit when they needed in order to claim victory.

That’s been an issue for Pittsburgh of late, and not just in Wednesday’s game. On Saturday, in a 4-1 loss to the Chicago Cubs, the Pirates scored just the single run despite recording 11 hits. They went 1 for 14 with runners in scoring position that day.

If one can’t tell, the Pirates’ record in close games, and the low run totals contrasted with high hit marks, highlights their inability to capitalize at the plate in situations Hurdle and others in the organization call “tipping points” in ballgames.

Pittsburgh’s opportunities to drive runners home are increasing, as Andrew McCutchen and the rest of the offense emerges from its early season drought. The Pirates’ on-base percentage has finally eclipsed the .300 mark, standing at .301 a quarter of the way into the season.

As more men reach base, that’s reflected in the higher quantity of plate appearances with runners in scoring position. Last month, the Pirates ranked near the bottom of the league in the category, but have risen into the middle of the pack with 379 such plate appearances.

In those situations, the Pirates have driven in 119 runs and hit .264 — seventh and eighth in the National League, respectively. Their .741 OPS also ranks eighth.

Pittsburgh has performed below league-average with runners in scoring position, though, seen through their 95 wRC+ that ranks ninth in the league.

The goal of an enhanced focus on hitting with runners in scoring position was obviously to improve performance in that aspect of the game. Through that metric, in which the Pirates finished just a tick under league-average with a 99 wRC+ in 2014, the focus hasn’t paid dividends yet.

Not to belabor the point, but as McCutchen and Josh Harrison at the least continue to break out of their slumps, the offense and all metrics surrounding it will improve as two of its best hitters do. McCutchen has actually been the team’s best hitter with men in scoring position, hitting .360 with 20 RBIs in 36 plate appearances.

Behind McCutchen, Starling Marte has driven in 19 runs and batted .318 in 50 plate appearances with men in scoring position. Jung-ho Kang and Harrison have each driven in eight runs to round out the rest of the Pirates hitting .300 or better in at least 20 plate appearances with men in scoring position.

Per FanGraphs’ data, the Pirates have hit 30.2 percent of balls hard when they’ve put pitches in play with runners in scoring position, ranking fifth in the N.L. Although a small sample size thus far, that number is better than their 27.1 percent hard-hit rate in the same situation last season. As Tim Williams wrote Tuesday, the Pirates’ hard-hit rate indicates their offense will not remain dormant for long. The same logic can be applied to this secondary area of the offense.

IMPORTANT: You will need to update your password after the switch to the new server in order to log in and comment. Go to the Password Reset Page to change your password.

32 COMMENTS

  1. Nate: Maybe I was not paying attention, but this is the first time I have read that the Pirates focus this year was a commitment on improving hitting with runners in scoring position. And since this has everything to do with hitting, I would have expected some comments from the hitting coach since he will be the first to be fired if things do not get better quickly.

    Yes, I realize he does not swing the bat, but we cannot fire the players and this group seems to need a wake-up call. Give them all the opportunity to say how unfair it was to fire him, but at least they may pay attention to detail afterward.

  2. Simple solution, STOP SWINGING FOR THE FENCE ON EVERY PITCH WITH RUNNERS ON BASE!!! Make contact drive em in and get on base for the next guy, that’s how rallies are started.

  3. It would help if Hurdle didn’t get out managed on a nightly basis. 1st & 2nd with 1 out Mercer due up late in the game down 2 runs screams sacrifice bunt yet Hurdle wasted a pinch hitter (Serpico) who hits into fielders choice. Tabata comes up base hit only 1 run scores. Cutch hits home run which only ties the game. Another game Hurdle cost them. Wasted pinch hitter is why he has to keep using Worley to pinch hit. Hurdle should be on the extreme hot seat.

    • What is the spread in managing talent? How many total games can a manager actually cost or gain for a team in a single season?

      • very few. The manager is more productive off the field. Keeping players up beat and teaching. Even pros are always learning. I think it would help to have a bench coach. They had one last year.

        • Agree. It’s possible Bannister might’ve convinced Hurdle to let Worley bat for himself in Tuesday’s game, thus saving the PH for later. Hard to criticize Hurdle for Liriano throwing meatballs and giving up 7 runs in 5 innings. But beyond that, if you know your BP is going to have to go 7 innings, you have to recognize you’re going to use all your PHs, so use them more judiciously.

    • Yes when your manager has been telling you everyday for 5 years that he is the smartest guy in the world it sort of wears on you. There is a guy in town who I WOULD HIRE IN A HEARTBEAT TO LIGHT A FIRE inder these under performing wild card performers.

  4. It’s not time to sell for this year. But it’s definitely time to realize that Pedro is who/what he is – a .230 hitter capable of hitting a lot of home runs, but almost never in the clutch. Wednesday night was a perfect example. Total bomb into the Allegheny – when down 7, with no one on base. Comes up later in the game with two men on base, and does nothing. Weakly waves at an outside pitch in the bottom of the 13th with the tying run on 2nd. Basically, Pedro is a batting practice performer – when there’s no pressure, he has awesome physical tools. This fall is the time to sell – and so we have to hope that Pedro repeats the 2013 campaign, and makes some stupid team (Yankees, Red Sox, Padres…) fall in love with his upside. Face it – the guy went to college and is 28 – he is who he is.

    • I’m not disagreeing with the he is who he is part of your rant, but I do believe you’re glossing over the fact Pitchers pitch differently to him when it’s a close game and when they have a 7 run lead. If Perkins grooved a fastball belt high, inner half, last night in 13th, chances are he hits that one in river, too.

    • For someone who can’t perform in the clutch as you say. it’s amazing playoff time to me is the most clutch time of the year & Pedro was their MVP in the playoffs

      • Pedro hit well v. the Cardinals in the playoffs. If you look over the past few years, Pedro has been a Cardinal killer. Now, the Cards just walk him.

        • Red: Nice to see someone is paying attention. At this point, the Cardinals do not want any part of him. I realize this is a venting session, but not one reference by the writer or the commenters to our Hitting Coach?

      • I’ve held off criticizing pedro, mainly because I like him a whole lot more at first than I ever did at third. That said this is clearly a case where the numbers do not tell the tale. Other than when he is on one off his two week hit everything in sight outta sight hotstreaks ( which incidently are where those numbers you have come from) heis a very poor clutch hitter. All of us keep waiting for this potential of his to manifest itself into a consistent hitter……..still waiting……..still waiting…….still waiting…………………………………………………………beep,beep,beep…… we are sorry the hitter you are trying to reach has been disconnected.

        • Has anyone noticed that Pedro for all his power, doesn’t hit many doubles? If he hits the ball in the air, it’s not in the gaps that produce doubles. I hitter with his power should have more doubles.

          • I have, and think it’s because he doesn’t hit a ton of line drives (at least until this year). Ball is either in the air and over the fence or on the ground and into the shift.

    • Has nothing to do with “clutch”, at least in the manner I’m sure you’re thinking.

      Say what you will about him, but it cannot be disputed that pitchers are afraid of him and this only gets exacerbated in leverage situations. Less strikes, and more off speed. Pedro isn’t the Ike Davis type of hitter willing to stand there with the bat on his shoulders and let someone else do the heavy lifting, and this inevitably leads to expanding the zone.

      If he could run a step better I’d love to see what he could do in the 2-hole.

      • Molitor chose to have his closer pitch to Pedro with the tying run on second and Worley in the on-deck circle. It seemed a bit daring until you consider that Worley hits LHP about 100 points higher than Pedro does.

    • I agree with your assessment on Pedro. Where there is no pressure in a given at bat he is relaxed and hits far better. When the pressure is on he ends up swinging at a 0-2 pitch in the dirt. I cannot count how many times I’ve watched him do that. If someone could only help him with recognizing the issue he has there and help him take some deep breadths and pretend that there is nobody on base then who knows it may make the difference for him. Its worth a try because his current approach is not working.

      • I like Pedro more than most but he seems to be the only person in the stadium that doesn’t know he’s going to get something in the dirt on 0-2. People here in Philly used to be furious with Ryan Howard for the same thing and he fell for it over and over again. Pedro is Pedro. I’ve made my piece with it. He’s not going to be who we wanted him to be when we drafted him 7 years ago but he’s not useless either.

  5. I hate to say this, but is it time to consider selling off Alvarez , Liriano, and Walker to get some nice prospects? Maybe focus on 2016?

    • Before Memorial Day?! In the 2nd Wildcard era?

      No. No it is not time to consider selling.

      Deep breathes.

    • NH: Hey Boss, I’m thinking of having a fire sale and throwing in the towel this season.

      BN: Really, why is that?

      NH: Well clearly this team, with one of the best young cores in MLB, doesn’t have the will to win. If only they tried harder all those hard hit line drives would stop tracking right at the other teams players.

      BN: Ok, so we give up on the season and potentially millions of $$$ of revenue because we’ve been unlucky? BRILLIANT!

Comments are closed.