First Pitch: Do the Pirates Need to Hit For Power to Win?

For years, the Pirates went with a strategy when drafting pitchers, taking tall right-handers who have easy arm action, room to add muscle to their frames, and the makings of a good breaking pitch. The plan was to draft a lot of these guys, put them through a strength building program that allowed them to add muscle, and hopefully add velocity in the process, and become a top of the rotation arm in the future.

So far that process has yielded Tyler Glasnow, Nick Kingham, and Clay Holmes, among others. None have reached the majors yet, although that’s not a big surprise, since they started going heavy on the approach in 2009, and that draft class turned out to be a big bust. The 2010 draft class turned out to be interesting, but unfortunately the Pirates didn’t sign many from that class, leaving Kingham. The 2011 group was clearly the best group, with the best result in Glasnow.

During all of this, the Pirates went so heavy on pitching, that they didn’t draft many hitters, and as a result, didn’t really establish many trends when taking hitters. This changed the last few years, with a new trend emerging. That trend? Draft athletic players who might have a shot at playing well at a premium defensive position, all while showing great contact, plate patience, and lacking home run power, but hitting for some gap power.

From 2009-2011, it seemed every pitcher profile was the same. Lately, it seems like every hitter profile is the same, and that has drawn one concern in the future — the Pirates don’t have many prospects who can hit for big power. This is true in the upper levels of the minors, with Josh Bell and Austin Meadows both displaying great raw power, but neither having that power showing up on the field. Guys like Max Moroff and Adam Frazier both had breakout years in Altoona, but neither hit for much power. And when these guys do hit for power, it’s usually in the form of extra base hits, rather than what people typically think of as power — home runs.

Too often I get questions and comments that are focused on home runs alone. This makes sense, because for the longest time home runs were treated as the best stat you could have. They can provide the most impact of any hit, can make big changes to a score in a short amount of time, and let’s face it — a solo home run is much more exciting than a double that scores a runner from second, even if they have the same impact on the score.

As you might expect, I got some comments about the lack of home runs after yesterday’s articles, when I wrote that Michael Morse should be the first baseman in 2016, and that Josh Bell is the first baseman of the future. Morse hit well with the Pirates, but didn’t show off his power (although in last night’s article, I explained why I think that power is still there). Bell made strides with his power in Triple-A, but really hasn’t tapped into his raw power to his full potential. That combo, in contrast to Pedro Alvarez, leaves concern that the Pirates won’t have home run power from the position that typically has the most home run power.

Not to single anyone out, because several people have made this argument, but Justin Heilmann summed it up perfectly on Twitter.

I’ve spent this week getting the Prospect Guide set up, and in the process I’ve been thinking about that future full of guys who can hit for gap power, but don’t hit many home runs. I’m not counting out Bell, Meadows, or anyone else from increasing their power in the future, but when you add those guys to the recent draft picks, you get a lot of players who can hit and get on base, but not many who can hit for a lot of power, or get those coveted home runs.

Justin’s comment got me to look up something I’ve been wondering in the process: How important are those home runs?

I decided to take a look at the standings this year, and compare the win totals for each team to their home run totals, just to see what kind of correlation existed. The results were low. There was just a 30.7% correlation between the amount of home runs and the amount of wins a team had. And this wasn’t a one year thing. In 2014, the correlation was 21%. It was 28.3% in 2013.

This year saw the St. Louis Cardinals finish with the most wins in the majors, all while finishing with the sixth fewest home runs. The Pirates and the Royals also finished in the bottom third in home runs, while finishing with 95+ wins. There were good teams at the top of the home run standings, like the Blue Jays, but there were also bad teams in the top ten, like Seattle and Colorado.

To put this in perspective, I ran a few other offensive stats with the 2015 win totals to see the correlation of those individual stats to the team win totals.

AVG: 8.8%

HR: 30.7%

SLG: 35.1%

ISO: 36%

BB%: 46.8%

wOBA: 47.5%

OBP: 52.5%

wRC+: 61.6%

Offensive WAR: 69.2%

What this means is that if you want to raise your win totals, you’re better off trying to increase your walks and OBP, rather than your home runs, ISO, and SLG. Home runs don’t hurt, but the idea that a team can’t survive with low home run totals runs counter to the actual numbers.

Using the Alvarez and Morse comparison, if you want home runs, you’ve got a much better shot at sticking with Alvarez. If you want OBP, you’ve got a much better shot with Morse. And the numbers above show that a higher OBP will lead to an increase in wins more often than a higher home run total.

Down in the minors, Josh Bell didn’t hit many home runs, but he did hit for some power, and he had an amazing .393 OBP. Austin Meadows had a .360 OBP. A lot of new draft picks saw great results, including Ke’Bryan Hayes (.408), Mitchell Tolman (.407), Logan Hill (.402), and Kevin Kramer (.375). Those breakout players in Altoona also had big OBP numbers, with Moroff posting a .374 and Frazier putting up a .384.

Since I’ve started covering this team, Pirates officials have said that they don’t believe power is limited to just home runs, citing extra base hits as power. They haven’t seemed concerned with going after big home run hitters, instead trending towards the more complete players who can do it all, at the sacrifice of home run power and great power in general. And while this leads to concern about a future lack of home runs, the numbers seem to be in their favor when it comes to focusing on the stats that correlate with a team winning more often, and ignoring the stats with a lower correlation.

I’m a person who does like to see power, and traditionally I’ve limited guys like Max Moroff to future utility roles due to their lack of power, and despite the high OBP. I don’t know if this research will totally change that approach, but it does give me more appreciation for the current draft trends, and more confidence that the Pirates will keep winning, even if their home run totals are low.

**2015 Second Base Recap: Neil Walker’s Days in Pittsburgh Seem Numbered. Today’s recap took a look at Neil Walker’s season, and the options for the 2016 season, which could still include Walker at second for one more season.

**Elias Diaz Named Best Defensive Catcher in Minors by Baseball America. Not a huge surprise here, as Diaz is a very strong defender, and his defense is a big reason why he’s the catcher of the future in Pittsburgh.

**AFL: Meadows Continues to Struggle, Glendale’s Bullpen Implodes in 9-2 Loss. John Dreker recaps today’s AFL action.

**Winter Leagues: Luis Heredia Debuts in Mexico. Not a great debut for Heredia, who struggled with control problems.

  • I might be in the minority, but if I were looking at the current Pirates roster, currently, and looking for a difference-maker which can drive this team forward…I would be looking for (1) improved/maintaining pitching, not giving up wins by having the #4 and #5 starters we had this year (down the stretch they gave us, literally, no chance to win games), (2) I would be looking to maximize our running game (steal more, more 1st to 3rd, more manufacturing runs), (3) getting another high OBP guy (4) look for defense–that includes moving Cutch out of CF. This team doesn’t have the means to go out and get a big bat, really, for 1B (and we cannot afford the mental errors and problems from Pedro at 1B or having 3-4 1B all year due to his inadequacies).

    That means I would be looking to spend my budget on pitching, I would be converting more to a defensive team, with speed on the basepaths. I would, likely, move Melancon, but only if the return was going to help the starting pitching. I bring back Happ as my 2nd lefty and I bring back Blanton for long relief.

    • Tim,
      My interpretation of the Hurdle interview you quote above about a number four hitter is that several times in that interview Hurdle expresses the desire to have one, get one or grow one. He agrees with the questioner twice that having an “anchor” number four is what everyone wants. The fact that Marte hit a laser at the shortstop in the sixth inning of the WC doesn’t have anything to do with the lack of a number four anchor. He even says “we do the best we can with where we are.” Sounds like a manager telling his GM to find him that number four.

      • Our lineup would be pretty good with Kan at 2, Cutch 3, a good 4 hitter and Marte 5 with Cervelli 6…but we are missing that 4 hitter.

        • I agree…….and Hurdle’s interview certainly calls out that we don’t have that number four anchor in the middle. Raw power in BP doesn’t translate to the pressure and difficulty of facing major league pitchers. What happens with Alvarez, Morse and Kang’s recovery is a key element of 2016.

  • I really hope baseball fandom isn’t adapting hockey reasoning, in that whatever the successful teams did in the playoffs is the only way to play the game if you want to win championships.

    • I agree with this. The Pirates have a clear problem: whether it be OBP or SLG% (home runs)…the Pirates have not been able to score runs at key times in the playoffs or (I would argue) even late in the season. McCutchen, Walker, and Marte have not been able to provide offense in the post-season and you can blame it on what pitchers we have faced all we want. When I look at this team I see a team that seems to swing and miss a lot…and, generally, not come through in the clutch (although, the numbers this year say the team did very good with RISP, especially with RISP w/2O).

      In the end, though, what is really important is (1) winning your division and getting a chance to actually play a series OR (2) having an elite, shutdown pitcher who guarantees you a win every (or virtually every) time he takes the field. The Pirates seem to fail to do the 1st and do not, yet, have the 2nd…that means that they are reliant on their hitters against pitchers who are the 2nd and do not have a chance. It would not have mattered if we had Paul Goldschmidt this year or last year, likely, for the 1 game playoff…it MIGHT have mattered if we had him for the full season. Worrying about the 1 game playoff is to miss the bigger picture and that is: winning your division gives you a chance for the OBP/SLG argument to play out/matter…right now the argument has not even mattered because the Pirates have not even had a chance out of the gate.

  • Unless you do everything else extremely well, power is essential. SF and KC got away with it because they did everything else extremely well….Not to mention, SF had a historical run by Mad Bum and KC ditto with their pen. Power can hide lots of warts, just ask the 2015 Chicago Cubs. All that being said, Pirates need power in their lineup. It just makes things easier and less stressful.

  • Clearly a team can win a whole bunch of games having either a lineup which hits a ton of HR’s or a team w the ability to get on base often. The key is scoring runs.

    The Pirates have constructed a roster suited to their park. If they played in a HR paradise like Cincy for instance, I’d expect them to draft and acquire players better suited to hit a higher % of fly balls.

    The most important aspect to the Pirates success is run prevention. Equipping and training their staff to be GB pitchers is the key ingredient to winning. This is way more important than having either a lineup like the Cubs have or one like the Cardinals.

  • Since the Cards were mentioned above, a simply question to ask is WWMCD?

    Carpenter increased his K rate by near 50%, kept his walk rate and OBP about the same, but jumped from 8 to 28 HRs and raised his ISO from 103 to 233.

    Granted, he’s been around five years, but I bring this up because he was never considered a power threat in the minors, nor in his MLB career until now.

    Obviously he’s doing something different. Which means several Pirates players and prospects could do something different as well and make up the ISO/HRs that walk out the door with Pedro.

    • That “something different” also just happens to be the opposite of what the Pirates teach.

  • From 2004 to 2015 I’m showing a higher correlation with obp to total runs scored (.9) than home runs to total runs scored (.74) So at least for that sample size it looks like obp clearly has a higher correlation. But as I said before, I don’t think any of these correlations should be done with homeruns to winning percentage because pitching and defense clearly muddies the waters.

    • The problem, as I see it, with using enormous sample sizes to define “fundamental baseball truths” like OBP being more valuable than power is that these “truths” lose far, far less precision the further down you scale them.

      If it takes years of league-wide data to draw a good signal, even one full season for an entire team becomes much less predictable. Zeroing in even further on specific players is probably useless, in all practicality.

      I’m a “stats guy” by nature, but I think conventional wisdom still has plenty of value. I know over huge samples that yes, run scoring favors on base percentage over power, but I get a laugh of out guys trying to be the smartest guy in the room by overstating the difference between OPS and wOBA over small samples. Yes, there’s a difference, but we’re talking on the scale of a few runs and even that is theoretical.

      • What point are you trying to make, you are all over the place?

        Are you trying to say that the 2016 Pirates need Alvarez (and Walker) because they don’t, at this point, project to be a very good offense team and a high on base lineup will score more runs but a higher slugging will score runs more consistently?

        That’s fine, glad I was able to make you laugh today.

        • It’s a fallacy to always argue the general in place of the specific, and I believe that is what is being done here.

          • What is the specific here, the sample is small and noisy so we can just make stuff up?

            A few runs is Polanco legging out four more doubles and he has a league average wRC+. Lineup optimization in the lower half of the order is less than a few runs.

            Yes hitting for power is necessary to be a great hitter, but it isn’t sufficient.

    • I generally agree with you NMR . Not trying to be smartest guy in room lol. I just picked a larger size to look at and not trying to argue it means a whole lot. Only thing I feel strongly about is pitching and defense should be stripped out if we are talking how important or unimportant home runs are

  • Look at the Astros and Yankees. Two playoff teams that for the most part only hit home runs or strike out. You can not say that that approach doesn’t work. Bring back the steroids and lets see some home runs again. It was fun watching the homeruns fly out of the park. The games are much too long at this point, pitching dominates as everyone one of them seems to be able to hit 95+ mph. Lets get some excitement back by having someone hit a home run. You need two hits to score a run if no one is hitting a homerun. Connor Joe walks more than he strikes out but so far he can not hit a lick. This is not what a fan wants to see. Pitching duels are like watching a soccer game. Much to do about nothing.

    • Ha, while I also share this unpopular opinion about PED’s, I think the solution is much simpler.

      Bring on the robo umps or call the damn strike zone as it should be.

      I’m all for watching hitters try to solve a great pitcher, even if it ends up a low scoring game. What crosses the line for me is when that great pitcher is made unhittable by asking those hitters to cover an extra 6″ outside and 3″ below the zone like in the Wild Card game.

    • You are missing an NFL game,and probably were hypnotized by that exciting Monday night Steeler game.

  • As Stephen Brooks points out this is very poor analysis. I’m not making an argument for or against the importance of homeruns. But to not even take into account the impact of pitching and runs allowed just shows how incomplete this research is.

    • You should read my response to Stephen first.

      • I think it’s silly to look at homeruns compared to wins without stripping pitching out. The Cardinals are middle of the road in homeruns and had one of most ridiculous strand rates in MLB history. They won 100 games much more based on run prevention than anything they did on offense. But that’s just an aside. I think all these things (obp, slugging, iso, bb) should be looked at in the context of offense only if you’re going to have a discussion about how important or unimportant power is. And just this year I find that homeruns and iso correlate higher than bb% or even obp%. So I consider the facts you referenced in your article to be very misleading.

  • Single season correlations and anecdotes about certain players are really the way to go about discussing the fundamental baseball truths. Is power overrated? I have no idea, it is a completely subjective judgement that depends on your starting point. Is a home run four times as valuable as a single like SLG and OPS measure a home run, absolutely not, that is why OPS only gets you part of way toward runs scored.

    This focus on power, seems to be an outgrowth of the idea the if the Pirates decided to move Walker and Alvarez, they have to replace their 3rd and 4th best run creators over the last three seasons, 224 and 188 runs created respectively.

    Just looking at those numbers the task seem Herculean. A less myopic look, the size of the task becomes more reasonable, from 2013-15, Walker was worth 8.6 WAR, 4th for the Pirates over that time, Alvarez 3.3 and 8th. Considering that the Pirates would have around $18 million dollars of payroll to replace or either up-grade at other spots the task is significant but so dismaying.

    Run creation and run prevention are equally important tasks, there are different ways to accomplish both.

    • The baseball owners must think HR’S are worth more. I haven’t done any research, but I believe a .250 with 25-30 HR’S makes more money that a .300 hitter scoring 100 runs. Kansas City does it with speed and running the basepaths correctly.

  • Great story and really some better comments today. I look at the Cubs and I see power and patience. I don’t see that with the Pirates and do think thats a problem. Losing Walker and Pedro in and of itself is not huge but if we were to replace them with guys who with limited power or lacking in plate patience then its going to show up in the W/L column.

    • The Cubs paced the league in strikeouts. The 2013 Braves had a very similar lineup, no one cares about the 2013 Braves.

      • If Freeman, Upton, McCann, Heyward, and Simmons were all were all 1-3 year players coming up together I *guarantee* you people would most certainly care.

  • I also think the de-emphasis on home runs is getting overstated by some.

    I hear a lot of talk about how it’s OK for so and so not to hit home runs as long as they produce gap power, extra base hits. That sounds great, but I’m not sure if folks really see what that looks like in action.

    Take Gregory Polanco. Slightly above average walk rate, slightly below average strikeout rate, normal BABIP, AND he hit fifty extra base hits. Fifty! That’s good, right? Polanco was *still* a below average hitter overall, and that’s solely due to below average power (.125 ISO) due to a lack of home runs.

    No, you don’t *need* home runs to be a good hitter. But you do have to be really, really good at doing other things. That’s a lot to ask for the majority of guys out there right now.

    • Garrett Cole is a very good pitcher. He is hard to string hits and walks together for runs. But, just two swings and he loses. A good picther doesn’t give up innings with multiple hits, hense, one swing, one run. As for gap power, it’s good if the ball get down. the outfielders today can run and run. Hitting it over the wall is the best gap power you can have. How many times has that hard hit ball been right at a fielder. Over the fence is hard to catch.

      • Yep. We’re arguing over the merits of power for a team that was shutout the last two WC games and were done in by HRs by Fowler and Schwarber, and a grand slam by Coles brother in law the year before.

      • There are more things wrong with your comment than your spelling of Gerritt Cole’s first name.

  • The problem with position-specific power vs. OBP comparisons such as the one with Alvarez and Morse is that it doesn’t account for context. We saw that in play with the Pirates themselves in 2014/2015.

    A high-OBP hitter surrounded by an offense of low-OBP guys is *not* better than the power guy, and possibly no better example of this was the difference between Ike Davis and Pedro Alvarez in the bottom of the order. The OBP guy is inherently dependent on the hitters around him also chaining positive events together in order to produce a run. That doesn’t work so well when those players are the 8 and 9 hitters in an NL lineup.

    The Pirates 2016 problem will be that they will have neither high power nor high OBP guys. Without the power they’ll be forced to chain hits and walks together to score runs, but don’t necessarily have a lineup full of guys who are good at doing those things. Their only projected returning high-OBP player that’s not completely BABIP-dependent is Cutch. This will create a lineup that scores runs when players are hot but struggles to convert otherwise.

    As for the future, though, I do agree with Tim. The Pirates have made a concerted effort to target guys who can make solid contact and/or command the strike zone, and look like they’ll be able to develop enough of them to build a complete lineup. They absolutely will still need Bell and Meadows to increase their power numbers or else we’re talking about a sub-.100 ISO lineup once Cutch is gone, but that can be done.

  • 6 of the 8 LDS teams were in the top ten of ISO, as are 3 of the 4 LCS teams. Power seems to make a difference.

    • Last year the two World Series teams ranked 17th and 30th in the majors in ISO and HRs.

      • And the Pirates have been shutout their last two postseasons games.

        • What does this have to do with the current discussion?

          • HRs were basically the difference in both leagues WC games, correct? Pitching certainly is important. But in a winner take all game, where both teams throw an ace, power could be the difference. In an increasingly offensive depressed league, most playoff teams are gonna have pitching. Its the power and bullpens that swings the pendulum.

            • Or speed, or defense, etc. I dont see any clear correlation between power+bullpen=difference in the playoffs.

              I could argue with similar merit that KC used speed to win in the playoffs along with timely power. Or that their defense was largest.

              I dont really see any strong correlation beyond “in that one game”, and thats flawed as well because a stolen base helped the mets score one of their runs just as a HR did.

              • Yes. Defense. Which the Pirates blow at.

                • Taking Pedro out of the equation, and the Pirates become average in errors and above average in areas like DRS thanks to shifting.

                  Even with Walker, thanks to shifts we have a good enough defense if Pedro isnt league worst at his spot. Kang at 3B, Mercer at SS, Walker at 2B, anyone league average at 1B and its a fine infield. Sub in Harrison at 2B and its better.

                  • Just make sure you take away the 2bs and Hrs too.

                    • Fine, they can replace at least half the HRs with even underwhelming replacements and Polanco seeing normal power increases for a young player. If i have to lose 5-10 HRs but lose 10-15 errors, im in.

              • The thinking here seems to be trade Walker/Alvarez plug in Harrison/Morse and later on Hanson/Bell. My problem with all that is you lose power and you’re not much better defensively if at all.

                Those Royals and Giants teams are built, much differently than the Pirates.

                So are the current playoff teams.

                They could afford taking away power from this 2016 team if the pitching and defense were solid. But even that’s in flux.

              • One game.

                It’s not the smallest sample size. But it’s near to the smallest.

            • I would say that pitching was the difference. The Pirates went up against the hottest pitcher in the league both times, and were completely shut down.

              • I would argue against Arrieta they did have some chances. Just could not get the big hit. Which was an issue in some series down the stretch with RISP *at times*. Hurdle asked for a 4 hitter in the post game.

                We will see what happens when the hot stove does. Tho is going to be a good column to bookmark for next spring.

                • They were unlucky in the sixth inning. Three of the hardest hit balls off Arrieta all year, and two of them were right at fielders, leading to three outs.

                  As for the number four hitter, Hurdle didn’t ask for one. He was asked if they needed a number four hitter. Here was the full Q&A:
                  “Q. Two years now you guys haven’t been able to have sort of a traditional number four guy in the lineup for a game like this. How much of a factor is that not having that bat in that position in a game like this where one swing can do something?

                  CLINT HURDLE: It’s a good point. Then you’ve got to look at the pitchers you’re facing. Is a traditional number four hitter going to make a difference? The guy we saw last year, and the guy we saw this year, gets fours out. I think we’re trying to continue to grow our own. We look outside, and you want to get a four hitter on the market. I don’t know how cost effective that is in the position we’re in right now.

                  I think we’ll analyze a lot of things in the off-season to see where we can improve and get better. Everybody would like to have an anchor in the middle of the lineup in these type of games. I agree with you there. We do the best we can with where we are.”

                  Their number four hitter had the hardest hit ball of the night in the biggest situation, and it went for a double play. And the Cubs had a strong number four hitter, but got all of their offense from their first two guys in the lineup. So I don’t think a number four hitter played a factor for either team here.

              • Would be nice for us to have a pitcher like that wouldn’t it?

        • I think we’re all a bit sensitive to the role home runs have played in the we wild card games because we have had the rare and unfortunate privilege of watching three in a row at pnc. I cant see the logic in altering an organizational philosophy over just one game that may or may not be heavily influenced by the big swing…I’m sure we’re going to see a few 1-0 squeekers before the one game play in is abolished too

          • The conversation the last couple days has started to annoy me. 1st base has been a pain in the ass for this team for awhile now. I’m tired of nickel and diming it, reading columns and comments about how smart the Pirates are for value moves, hanging on to prospects, and so forth. The four teams left in the playoffs all made a money move and/or significant trade in the last 9 months.

            • They made moves because they were inadequate as constructed. The Pirates flaws are such that the organization would need to overpay for upgrades at key positions if they signed free agents or made risky trades. The Pirates build team cores through the draft, international free agents and reclamation projects.

              This method works. If you want to see what happens to teams that live and die with bug move, consider the fate of the

              Red Sox

              The Pirates have the replacements they need. They currently play in the team’s MiL system.

              • “The Pirates have the replacements they need.”

                As I said, good thread to come back to in a year or two.

  • Great article. However, it sure seems to me that home runs have dictated the playoffs this year. And the postseason is obviously all that matters in the end. The ability to hit home runs sure seems to make up for a lot of things, especially not having to worry about stranding runners on base. Great pitching can easily shut down a team that isn’t a home run type of team. But a team with big power bats can overcome that worry with just one swing.

    The Pirates have great players that are incredibly athletic. But I’d still take a home run hitter any day in the lineup over pure athleticism ( as long as the average was acceptable ). Most Pirates fans already realize the cubbies have a much better hitting lineup. And much of the reason for that is their ability to hit home runs. This postseason is totally showing you the importance of a lineup with power. Nothing else matters offensively.

    I can only hope that the Pirates organization has learned something from watching this postseason.

    • Agreed on this point. Two years in a row, against a top notch starter, we have essentially watched our entire season END, with a grand slam and a two run homer respectively in the play in game. Those two homers were just total soul crushers. We knew how this was going to play out. Alvarez was not going to do anything and hopes for our OBP- Oriented offense were slim. Watching a guy like Colby Rasmus hit three homers for the Astros this year, while after eight playoff games, Cutch is still tied with Me for homers and RBI, is pretty disheartening

    • Great pitching shuts down ALL types of hitters. Period. I am a huge proponent of the top 3 teams in the NLCentral. But if the Met’s pitching is at it’s best, watch and see how many HRs the Cubs hit.

      • Really wished we had the pitching (starting) that the Mets do.

        • There are some really good pitching prospects not vey far away.

          • Unfortunately I’m not sure Taillon/Glasnow/Kingham are not at least a year away from giving us solid performance…and Cutch isn’t getting any younger.

  • Tim,

    Correlating HR to wins is an incomplete analysis – it ignores pitching and defense. For Pete’s sake, even runs scored is only moderately correlated to wins (.43).

    Now, if you want to correlate offensive statistics to RUNS SCORED, the picture looks much different:

    ISO = .75
    HR = .67
    OB% = .64
    AVG = .48
    BB% = .36

    And incidentally, PREVENTING HR is correlated .83 with run prevention, and .67 with wins. Just think about the Pirates the last 3 years: ’13 and ’15, best in the league in HR prevention. 94 and 98 wins. ’14, 7th in the NL in HR prevention, 88 wins.

    This team lives and dies on pitching (in the regular season, at least). So does it need power to win? No – but it sure would help if the team could add some XBH and take a walk now and then.

    • Great points! The correlation of ISO to Runs scored is telling. The effect of pitching down in the zone with pitches that sink is apparent.

    • We need a Community Blog. This was extremely well done.

    • Home runs aren’t correlated to runs scored at a higher rate than on base. If you have that result something went awry or the sample being looked at is very small.

      • Sample size is 2015, same as Tim used for wins.

        • Both pretty much useless.

          • Fangraphs ran an article not long ago exploring the uptick in scoring and found that it was almost entirely attributable to HR. So yes, that is an anomaly.

            What is not an anomaly is that SLG has been more closely correlated to runs scored than OBP has each of the last 10 years. This wasn’t always so, but it’s been going on too long to ignore. In a lower run scoring environment such as we are witnessing in the post-PED era, an extra base from power holds greater sway than an extra base on balls.

            • Are we discussing slugging, isolate power or home runs? It is all covered by linear weights.


              • Interesting that the statistics (e.g., wOBA) derived from linear weights were less correlated to actual runs scored than SLG by itself in 9 of the last 10 seasons.

                For the record, I prefer ISO to represent “power”, but ISO vs. OBA is not a fair fight (the on-base corollary to ISO would be something like BB% + HBP%), which is why I compared OBA to SLG. When I was originally introduced to sabermetrics, before the current deflated run environment, the conventional wisdom was OPS undervalued walks and overvalued power. I’m just pointing out that it would appear the worm has turned.

                • SLG is not more correlated with runs scored than wOBA, OPS might be because it SF aren’t counted. The discussion is getting a bit esoteric. However OPS has a whole host of issues, it adds two numbers that have different denominators. Correlations are great but not always that helpful.


                  SLG will be more correlated in every era with team runs scored because it values each event differently, incorrectly, but still places a scaled value on them. OBP treats all events the same, a walk clearly does not contribute to runs at the same rate as a double.

                  Additionally, team runs scored and team wOBA or OPS or SLG, aren’t going to have very much variation, so we aren’t going to learn anything meaningful. And there is still the noise and context.

                  If you want to know how runs are created you need to go down to the individual event level, which is what wOBA does, in order to value individual player contributions to offense. OPS will get you part of the way their but a home run isn’t four times as valuable as single, and OPS will breakdown at extremes.

                  I forget what the original point was at this juncture. The Pirates don’t need to hit for power to win, as it is one component of 1/2 of winning baseball games, however using one year correlations isn’t the way to discuss this.

                  Looking at a players total offensive contributions, wOBA will provide a better idea of how much each player is likely to provide.

                  • My error – it’s wRC, not wOBA, that is less correlated to team runs than SLG in 9 of the last 10 seasons.

                    The “original point” – at least, the one I was making to Tim – is that it’s somewhat dishonest to ignore the pitching side of the equation when trying to correlate “power” to wins. I also have my issues with defining power so narrowly, for reasons you can imagine, and I would have chosen more than one year to illustrate the point (but in countering Tim’s point, I used the same data set he did to show how markedly different the correlations are).

                    Behind that point is this: in the current low-offense context, power is increasingly important. As K% climbs, teams have fewer opportunities to chain non-outs, and fewer of their outs by definition are “productive” outs. This is at least a 6-year trend, the just-ended season’s slight retrenchment notwithstanding.

                    To bring the conversation from the esoteric to the concrete: the Pirates look to be downgrading in power just at the time that power is increasing in importance. This team has too little on base ability, too much swing and miss and not enough contact authority in the lineup to score consistently without multiple power threats. That it managed 700 runs is largely attributable to a high BABIP – 5 of the 8 regulars were above .330. If you expect that to sustain, then you might not be as concerned – especially if you think Michael Morse has another just-shy-of-elite power season in him. I’m less optimistic.

    • I agree with you on pitching being the bigger value to the team winning.

      As for correlating anything to runs, the entire focus here was looking at the argument that a team couldn’t win if they didn’t have power. I agree with you that you need to focus on more than just one offensive stat, and that you also need pitching, defense, and base running. I think that’s just more against the idea that a team needs to focus on that one stat.

      Correlating home runs to runs makes sense, but it further shows that you need more than just one offensive stat to win. And the fact that home runs and OBP are about the same shows that you can take either route to get those runs. But then you look at that runs scored correlation to wins, and you find that you can’t just go on offensive runs alone.

      Overall, I think we’re in agreement here that you need more than just one offensive stat, which was the point of correlating home runs to wins.

      • Of course a team can win lots of games with minimal homeruns or power if they have elite pitching. If they lead league in run prevention offense clearly isn’t as important to win as it would be for a team that is average in run prevention. That in and of itself tells us nothing about how important or unimportant homeruns are as far as contributing to runs scored year in, year out.

        • The Pirates had one of the best pitching staffs in the league this year. They put a heavy focus on pitching and defense. The defense didn’t work as well this season, but it has in the past, and their focus in the minors is to find guys who can play strong defense at a premium position, while getting on base and sacrificing power.

          So with that context, their overall approach makes sense, and makes power less necessary.

          • That’s fine but that doesn’t make some of the “conclusions” in the piece any less misleading. Such as BB% having a higher correlation with winning than ISO in the offensive context. When we reduce it to runs scored we see ISO has a much higher correlation than BB% to runs scored.

          • You know, Tim, it is interesting really how bad the Pirates defense has been considering the drastic shifts employed. How terrible would the defense prove to be without the shifts?!

            • Well, their UZR – which does not count shifted plays – has them at 21 runs below average, while DRS – which does include shifted plays – has them at +11. It’s impossible to know whether they would have been above, below, or at average on those plays had they played it straight up; I don’t even have a handle on the % of total plays that the Pirates had a shift on. What is clear is the shift had a pretty sizable impact on their defensive performance, to the tune of 3 wins, give or take.

          • Their “focus” on defense unfortunately left them on one of the worst fielding teams in the league. And it was similar last year, too. They were about 30 runs below average both years. That’s about 3 wins below average, and about 10 wins behind the Royals, who are the best defensive team.

          • Their “focus” on defense unfortunately left them on one of the worst fielding teams in the league. And it was similar last year, too. They were about 30 runs below average both years. That’s about 3 wins below average, and about 10 wins behind the Royals, who are the best fielding team.

            They made up with it somewhat using shifts, +7 DRS last year down from +36 in 2014. Just imagine if they could actually field the ball…

    • Tim’s analysis was complete! It completely debunks the point that HR totals are strongly correlated to win totals.

      • I will stick up for Steve on this one. By limiting the correlation of hitting statistics to offensive runs scored you take pitching and defense out of the discussion of offensive productivity, as they should be.

        Actually it would be interesting to do a multivariate statistical analysis to determine which elements really are important for winning. My guess is that starting pitching is most important, followed by a statistic that isn’t kept, percentage of PA that result in the runner advancing to 2nd base or beyond.

  • Ok Tim here’s the answer to the question: Rizzo, Bryant, Shwarber, Baez + Arrieta, Lester and bottomless pockets to fill any gaps – not even mentioning Addison Russell & Starlin Castro. The Pirates are going to have to try to get past that in the next few years (at least). Look at how players like Votto and Goldshmidt (and Big Papi) transform a lineup.

    Yep, your stats are probably on the mark but there is also an old fashioned “eye test/gut feeling” about baseball that needs to be considered together with the Sabremetrics.

    When Pedro is mashing, he can change the dynamic of a game with one swing of the bat.

    Happened to the Pirates in both WCs – as soon as Crawford and Shwarber “went yard”, those games were effectively over.

    Not that you can’t win without home run power, but the combination of ace pitching plus power hitting can be deadly.

    By the way how on earth did NH mess up so badly with Joey Bats? Hard to believe Pirates gave up on him for nothing and then he turns practically instantaneously into a superstar! And can you ever say it was a mistake not going after Abreu – Pedro + Morse’s salaries not that far from what he’s getting paid! (And off topic, how did they not sign Miguel Sano!!!)

    I don’t think that HR power should be discounted as an important factor.

    • Totally agree! In fact, I think it should be at the top.

    • Have to remember with Bautista that every other NL team passed on him and a few AL as well as he was passing through waivers. Missing on Sano is looking bad. Would he be playing 3b or would they have moved him to 1b?

    • Bautista wasn’t Huntington’s miss, he was the coaching staff’s biggest folly possibly in team history. They took a superstar power hitter and tried jamming a slap hitting, all fields approach down his throat.

      • Not exactly the facts either NMR. It was more like a case of a young guy who wouldn’t change the mechanics of his swing till faced with a future in AAA. And that didn’t happen till he was almost shown the door in Toronto.

        • Balogna. You’re telling me the Pirates were trying to do what the Blue Jays eventually did? That’s just not true.

          • Baloney yourself. The first time that Toronto came to visit PNC after the trade, Bautista himself told a reporter that the Bucs coaching staff attempted to make him make a certain tweak in his batting stance. It was only after he began failing in Toronto that he realized he wasn’t long for the majors at his current pace. It was the Blue Jays coaching staff that asked him to make the same adjustment that the Pirates had wanted. And YES, that IS true.

            • It was eliminating the double toe tap if my information was correct. And he was told if he didn’t change, and quickly, he was going to be a career minor leaguer.

              • That’s I read somewhere. The Pirates gave up on Bautista because he he was hard headed and could not improve with his approach at the plate.

                The return Bautista brought from Toronto tells us everything we need to know about Jose’s market value at the time of the trade.

                Bautista’s breakout is a bitter pill for Pirates fans, but I have never seen evidence showing the Pirates failed Bautista. The tools were always there. And he showed great raw power in BP, according to reports. It just took him years to put his game together.

          • Suit yourself. I don’t know where your information is coming from, so I will agree to disagree. And if you want to call a guy with his MLB track record, prior to the trade to Toronto, a ” superstar power hitter “, I would say hyperbole is at it’s maximum.

          • He added a leg kick and got started earlier- not exactly rocket science but as i said, this wasn’t exactly figured out by the other 10 teams he was on either

    • You had better read up on Bautista’s MLB history and background before questioning how and why he was traded. It pays to know what you are talking about before jumping off the cliff.

    • Doesnt seem like he is discounting HRs as a factor, but questioning the idea that low HRs make winning a ton of games harder. There has been a ton of talk about how a lack of a future big power hitter makes our offense potentially problematic.

      • Against Top pitchers- (think Arrietta) one bad pitch is a run if you have a homerun hitter. A doubles hitter, now you have a runner at 2nd with 1, 2 outs and not only have to get the bat on the ball again, but also get a hit most likely to score a run. Discounting instant runs against the Ace’s of the league is folly. You don’t get 4/5 runs off of baumgartner, Arrieta, Hamels, etc UNLESS you hit homers. So while it doesn’t really make winning 95 games per season any harder, it makes winning the important toughest games, that much harder

    • weltytowngang
      October 16, 2015 2:08 pm

      Alvarez home runs seem to be a lot of solo shots. (My impression). If so, are solo shots what you want or someone who can hit them with ducks on the pond.

    • Talk about transform the middle of a line up with big power bats, someone that does the same thing is Cutch, who is certainly not a huge power threat. I’ll take a guy hitting. 300/.400/.500 with 20 dingers over a guy who hits for no average and doesn’t get on base but has 50 shiny home runs in the middle of my line up. Gimme a guy like goldschmidt who can do both and I’d flip my lid, but those guys are incredibly few and far between.

      The wild card reference Is a bit of a moot point too as the one game play in is an abomination to a game built on winning series, not individual games and I’d say the two big Homers were more a product of pitchers having an off night and missing spots (or in volquez case, just…being Eddie volquez) than having a big masher in the line up.

      And I agree that ace pitching plus power can be a great combination, but teams tend to live and die by it (ask Houston about that). Home runs streaks can be mighty fickle. The cubs are going far because they are an all around gteat team in all facets of the game (exect maybe the bullpen, although I admit I base that mostly off knowing they use Clayton Richard as a late inning reliever and not statistics), not just because they can hit the long ball.

    • Mess up with Joey Bats? You might want to take a look at how many teams tossed him in the garbage in the two years before we decided to keep him and give him a shot at actually being a major league player. Out of the 8 organizations he was in, he did 2nd best with us. You have a lot of other teams to question before us.

    • The rest of the comment- I agree. Royals win with no power….why? Because they can run like the win, play excellent defense, run bases exceptionally well, and have a dominant bullpen. That isn’t us, will never be with the coaching staff we have in place, so using the Royals here as a comparison is honestly- garbage. Cardinals- what is their payroll again? Otherwise i’ll give in to the idea of great coaching, unselfish hitting (great situational hitting skills and contact skills) solid defense, solid baserunning. Teams that are built like the Pirates (average at best baserunning, average at best defense) NEED homerun power to be succesful. We don’t play small ball ever, no matter what the situation. We have some of the speediest players in the game, but they bunt poorly and get very few infield singles (outside of marte) so unless the entire way we play baseball changes (which i personally would like to see but its about as likely as Pedro becoming good at using all fields like we saw this year) we NEED homerun power.

      – Now then, Harrison’s power dropped a lot this year, as did Mercer’s, Walkers dropped some as well, and Cervelli has less power than Russell Did, so okay- BUT- Mercer should hit more then 5 homers, Kang should hit about 20, Walker is good for 15, Harrison definitely can hit 10ish, and Morse has hit 30 before- no reason to think he won’t hit 20 if given the opportunity. Basically- Pedros gone homers should be offset by more power from Harrison and Mercer plus what you get from Morse. Now- if you take away Walker- then you start really subtracting power from what i can see….

      • Polanco should be working on bunting all off season…if he added that to his arsenal he gets on base more and we can utilize some speed more. We aren’t a high OBP team…don’t run particularly well and our defense isn’t elite. But for our budget and how we are built thst is what we need to have.