Pirates Struggles Against Left-Handers Continue

The Pittsburgh Pirates picked up a reputation last season as a team that hits left-handed pitching well. But their performance wasn’t quite as stellar as some made it out to be.

Pittsburgh finished the 2014 season batting .258 against left-handed pitching. The Pirates performed below league average, posting a 97 wRC+.

Left-handed starters against the Pirates have been few and far between for the most part this season. But Alex Wood became the latest to shut the Pirates down Sunday, pitched 7 1/3 shutout innings as the Braves won 2-1.

Wood needed only 94 pitches to get through his 7 1/3 innings and the most pitches he threw in a single inning was 16. The Pirates struck out eight times and did not draw a walk against him.

His efficient outing relied on stellar command of his curveball in tandem with a sinker the Pirates could only beat into the ground over and over again for outs.

“Any time I can command my breaking ball like that it’s definitely big for me,” Wood said. “When you have it coming out of your hand and the break is good for those pitches you’re trying to throw, those back foot breaking balls to right-handers, that’s when you get your swing and misses. When those two things match up, the command of it and obviously it was spinning pretty good today, it’s definitely a big help.”

Wood gave up only five hits and allowed just one man to advance beyond second base.

“He made pitches and he worked through,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “We didn’t have a lot of situations to push him.”

Against a lineup that consisted entirely of right-handed hitters, Wood commanded his fastball well to his glove-side which kept hitters from making solid contact against him.

“Everything happened too fast I believe,” catcher Francisco Cervelli said. “We started reacting late in the game.”

Cervelli dropped a puzzling bunt in the seventh inning that stifled the Pirates only chance to push Wood Sunday. Andrew McCutchen and Starling Marte led off with singles, and Cervelli bunted of his own volition.

While the bunt moved runners to second and third with one out, Cervelli also took his own bat out of his hands. He entered Sunday’s game batting .389 against left-handed pitching, and while Jordy Mercer has hit better lately, it was probably more ideal for Cervelli to swing the bat.

Behind Cervelli, Josh Harrison ranks second among all Pirates with at least 30 plate appearances against lefties, hitting .340. Marte has hit southpaws at a .333 clip while McCutchen is batting .326.

But beyond that group, left-handers are befuddling the Pirates this season.

Overall, the Pirates rank 12th in the league with a .672 OPS against left-handed pitchers. Their .249 batting average ranks tenth.

The Pirates have only posted 561 plate appearances against left-handed pitchers this season, the third-lowest total in the National League.

But while they haven’t faced as much left-handed pitching, especially starters, the Pirates 89 wRC+ shows they’ve performed below league-average against southpaws.

The Pirates added Corey Hart to help that area, but he’s recently been impaired by a shoulder impingement and Sean Rodriguez has taken the majority of starts at first base against left-handers. Hart has hit .107 in 30 plate appearances against left-handers, and Rodriguez’s .222 average is also poor.

There’s also the issue that three of the team’s regulars are usually absent from the starting lineup when there’s a left-handed starting pitcher on the mound. Sunday’s starting nine did not include Neil Walker, Gregory Polanco and Pedro Alvarez.

Both Walker and Alvarez have struggled this season and Polanco is still finding his way as a major-leaguer, now in his first full year with the Pirates. And, for the record, the closest he’ll get to going back to Triple-A Indianapolis will be when the Pirates travel to Detroit for three games this week.

Playing the light-hitting and recently-recalled Gorkys Hernandez doesn’t help matters either, but the Pirates lineup construction on games with southpaws on the mound is hamstrung with the hitters available.

The Pirates next matchup with a left-hander comes Thursday in Detroit against Kyle Ryan, a 23-year old who’s made all of four career starts, with a 4.56 ERA this season.

  • Including yesterday’s game the Pirates have 103 OPS+ versus left handed starters, compared to a 93 OPS+, against right handed starters (this includes pitcher hitting.)

    The Pirates have some offensive issues, lack walks, and under powered lineup and their LHH are under-preforming even against RHP. I’m not sure their performances against LHP is much of a concern.

    • The whole offense is the concern. We really do lack punch and we do not really try to manufacture runs. We aren’t catching the Cardinals at all this year, but I do wonder what would have been if we could have had any offense at all to match our pitching thus far this year.

      • Coming off a season where we finished 2nd in our league in offense, im not sure why it was clear we needed a ton of offense. We replaced Martin about as well as one could expect realistically, and we retained the entire rest of an offense that was lethal last year. Offense may now be a concern due to lack of production, but you cant really account for lack of production from quality players under 30.

        Offense carried us last year a good chunk, this year the pitching has carried the weight thus far.

        • I don’t think I said that we made any glaring mistakes in the offseason by not boosting our offense, although i would have liked an addition that would have pushed Pedro some and provided a better bench bat. Regardless, though, whether it was clear then that we needed offense or not, the truth is that our offense is a real concern now and if we want to make the playoffs/make it far in the playoffs we need to address the offense.

          • Eh, i dont see the clear need on offense. Not gonna find clear upgrades at LF, CF, 3B, SS, or C that are reasonable priced. Outside of Lind, the 1B market sucks and i doubt they acquire someone in RF to block Polanco.

            I think the talent level of this offense is better than most, they just arent achieving it. I think its just as likely things click in the second half, because this offense last year was legit. Its average right now, and its under performing its talent level.

        • Because recency bias isn’t a good way to project an offense?

          That 2014 club who ranked 2nd in the league benefited from what looks to be career years from six(!!!) hitters with 350 PA or more.

          Harrison, Walker, and Snider are never hitting that well again. Cutch, along with everyone else on the planet, is going to have an awful tough time matching his production. And both Marte and Martin likely won’t be getting much better.

          This was projected to be a middle-of-the-pack offense and that’s exactly what it is.

      • On the year the Pirates offense is a touch below average, 3.97 runs/game (NL average is 4.03), wRC+ of 99.

        Pirates are 11th in walk rate and 12th in ISO, which means to score runs they need to string singles together which leads to some inconsistent output.

        It has been different guys each month struggling, but they’ve had only 4 guys hitting above league average in each month.

        • They all swing for the fence with runners on instead of putting the ball in play. There have been times this year where as a group they make contact with men on, the rest of the time it’s a continuous breeze generator with the all out swing and miss fest.

  • The book seems to be out on how to pitch to Harrison. Low and in. Can’t lay off it, doesn’t come close to making contact.

  • zero chance of that. Who wouldn’t want him though… only Billy Beane makes that deal.
    You have three moves to improve the ballclub for the playoff push – What are they? For me:
    First move, promote Alen Hanson.
    Promoting a rookie normally isn’t the best move for a playoff push, however I think his ability to lead off and be an impact player is higher than most rookies. See Carlos Correa… (rookie) but Altuve type bat.
    Second move, Harrison starts in RF.
    I have a big poster of Polanco on my office wall, and he will be a perfect 4th outfielder and impact bench player but Harrison is better right now as a starter.
    Third move, every way I look at it Freddy Freeman is the best and most likely to be available option.
    What does it take to land him. Major league players? Prospects? Both? How about a major shakeup.
    Pedro or Neil, JT, and Harold Ramirez. Does that deal get it done? Not sure but it’s bound to be close.
    I’d offer the same package to Philly for Hamels – SP or 1b either or really – both are major need.

    • I’d offer that package to the Phillies for Cole Hamels!! Although, it would be more like Pedro, Glasnow and Ramirez.

      For Abreu, if you believe the FanGraphs article, it does nothing for the Sox to keep him.

      AVGHRRBIOBP.2911341.343. He’s 28 yr.s old in his prime now. They would be better off building around Sale and Rodon A package of Bell, Hanson and Ramirez or E. Diaz or T. Sanchez for Abreu should get them started.
      They need a RH bat something terrible. Especially since Cutch, Mercer, Walker and Harrison have not had the same numbers as years past.

  • Any chance of landing Jose Abreu as per that recent fangraphs article discussing the White Sox blowing it up??

    • Even if they blow it up, its still reasonable to think they would keep him as a center of future teams. 6 year deal, so i dont think they really have to move him without a quality return. Samardzjia likely gone, maybe even Sale if they really go full blow up. But the length of his deal and his current output make me personally wary of the Sox moving on from Abreu easily.

  • That’s why don’t want to see Bumgardner or Lester in wild card game this year.

  • Kris Mosley
    June 29, 2015 1:05 pm

    So last year everyone thought Ike Davis was the worst offensive 1b ever, but this year everyone wants to move Walker to 1b even though he is hitting worse than Davis did last year….

    Moving Walker to 1b fixes nothing, it only weakens a lineup that is already struggling

    • BuccosFanStuckinMD
      June 29, 2015 1:42 pm

      Unlike Ike Davis, I have some level of confidence that Walker will rebound in the second half and hit more like he did last year.

  • BuccosFanStuckinMD
    June 29, 2015 12:20 pm

    Things I would do, but Pirates unlikely to do…..

    (1) Move Walker to first base, DFA Hart.
    (2) Call up Hansen and let him hit lead off and play second base – we need a spark.
    (3) I wouldn’t send Polonco down, although there are valid reasons to do so – but, I would largely sit him for now and go with Hernandez for now in RF – giving spot starts there to Rodriguez and Polanco, depending on who is pitching.
    (4) I would consider bringing up Holzkom, replacing Worley or Lombardozzi.

    • In an AL road game v. a RH Pither (which has not happened yet this season), I think they should try 1B Walker, 2B Harrison, SS Mercer, 3B Kang, DH Alvarez. Walker has played 7 games at 1B in AAA.

      • 7 games at 1B in AAA….in 2010. So thats a guy with single digit experience at a spot, with the experience coming half a decade ago. Imma stay really worried about how that player will handle a transition into that spot with 0 practice mid year.

        1B may not be the toughest spot to learn, but learning on the fly isnt going to endear him to many fans while dealing with the kinks.

        • Didn’t they do it with Alvarez last season? Regardless Walker doesn’t hit well enough to be valuable at 1B.

          • They did it, though he wasnt given it totally and if i remember got him some form of practice time.

            I dont mind Walker’s bat at 1B (career levels, not this year levels). Its underwhelming a bit, but not a hindrance. I dont see any reason to force him there this year, for the offense as you alluded to and the fact that i dont think you can play any new position well without practice and do it mid year.

          • No he does not. I do not understand all the “move Walker to 1B” love…I do think we need an upgrade for the playoffs, but I do not think that Walker to 1B is that upgrade.

            • I think the issue for some fans is “upgrade” means high quality. I’d love high quality, but with the talent on the offensive side i think a Walker type is okay short term.

              A .270/.330 guy with mid teens pop and a wRC+ 105+. That’s average NW production and makes you not cringe at 1B. Not top 3 in the league, but balances the offense.

              • Well, theoretically, it should also improve up on our, what, -6 DRS (defensive runs saved)? Both increasing DRS from 1B (Pedro is, what, -8?) and 2B. I just do not see it as a flawless transition and I do not think that the Pirates are interested in giving up on Pedro (even though I think they should).

                • I wouldnt do it this year, but next year i’d move Pedro and shift Walker over. Walker limits the floor of what you can expect production wise.

                  • I think this would be an incredibly constricting move. Walker would need a platoon at 1B, his numbers against LHP will work at a more valuable defensive positions but not first.

                    Assuming 500 PAs, which is generous if platooned, looking at Walkers career numbers over 500 PAs would be about +9 batting runs, +1 base running run and lets say +2.5 fielding runs, add in positional adjustment and replacement level and you are looking at about 1.8 WAR.

                    That looks great compared to what the Pirates have been getting at 1B, but compared to the rest of the league that is pretty under whelming.

                    • Pedro needs a platoon at 1B, doesnt alter the roster as its currently set at all. I think the choices for next year are Pedro/Walker or a FA. Dont like the market, and dont like paying for 1B price on the open market.

                      Better options cost a good deal, and while i agree Walker isnt a great option he does give something the offense misses most year. I’d take 2 WAR from 1B with the OF we have and a decent year from Harrison and Kang.

                    • Last year batting righty, Walker had a higher batting average than he did batting lefty- though far fewer HR’s from that side. Not saying he’s a great righty, but he’s not as bad as we make him out to be either.

    • The Pirates have 2nd best record in NL. on pace for 90 wins half way though season, and the team needs to be basically overhauled?

      Forgive me, but you’re logic is more flawed than the Pirates roster. By a long shot.

    • Would be pretty hard to just move Walker to 1st and go out and play. Do you remember when Pedro moved to 1st last year? It took a couple weeks worth of work before they did it in a game. It’s not a bad idea but Walker would need to put in a lot of work on the side first. I actually love the idea of putting him at 1st. it would strengthen our D in the long run and if Hansen’s playing 2nd and leading off it could boost the offense as well

  • BuccosFanStuckinMD
    June 29, 2015 12:14 pm

    Tonight is time for Cole to step up and be the true ace – to beat a good hitting lineup in their ballpark and giving the team a badly needed win.

    As for Thursday, based on past experience, Kyle Ryan will probably throw a 3 hit shutout against the Pirates.

    Since the disaster in DC, we’re 3-3 in 6 games against two mediocre teams – not good.

  • So Ryan is 23 years old, only made 4 career starts, and is a lefty? So he’ll throw a no-hitter through 6 at least, right?

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