PITTSBURGH — Despite a recent turnaround fueled by the returns of Adam Frazier and David Freese and the emergence of some power from Josh Bell, the Pirates’ offense continues to under-perform.

As a team, they’re 13th in the 15-team National League in wRC+, wOBA, and OBP and 14th in batting average and slugging.

A lot of that has been fueled by a .263 BABIP, the second-lowest figure in the league. As I wrote about Adam Frazier last week, the league-average BABIP is typically around .300, meaning that the Pirates as a team are getting more than a little bit unlucky when it comes to balls in play.

“That is a positive sign,” general manager Neal Huntington said. “It means we’re hitting balls at people. It means there’s a reason to believe we’ll have some bounce-back here as we get going. As we get some guys healthy, we get (Gregory) Polanco healthy and rolling, this is an offense that even without (Starling) Marte, even without (Jung-Ho) Kang, is a capable offense. We’ll look to see how we can add to it either through our system or externally if we’re in the right spot in July or June if possible or May if possible if something plays out. We’ve had some guys hitting into hard luck. We’ve had guys that have done some good things. We’ve got a team that’s capable of putting up runs. It’s just a matter of stacking some at-bats.”

The Pirates most hurt by their BABIP have been Jose Osuna (.218), John Jaso (.219), Andrew McCutchen (.222), Jordy Mercer (.241) and Francisco Cervelli (.250). All of those players — who are all regulars, with Osuna and Jaso essentially platooning in right — have batting averages of .221 or lower.

Cervelli and Jaso, in particular, seem ripe for a turnaround. Cervelli has a hard-hit percentage of 42.4 — the best on the team. Jaso is right behind him with a 37.3 percent figure. Each of them are hitting ground balls less than 50 percent of the time, with Jaso posting a team-low 32.8 percent mark.

Of course, there are other ways for the Pirates to improve their offense besides getting guys going that haven’t been through the first two months of the season. One of those would be getting Kang back from Korea, but Huntington doesn’t seem optimistic on that front. Even if he were to be granted his U.S. visa at this point, it would be a while before he would be able to contribute.

“The longer he’s away from baseball, the longer it’ll take to get him into baseball condition,” Huntington said. “It’s one thing for him to continue to work out and continue to do everything he can do outside of baseball, but there’s a reason we have major-league spring training. His spring training may need to be a little bit longer once he does get going.”

Then there’s keeping the hot players hot. I wrote about Frazier’s sky-high BABIP last week and Huntington seemed to think there’s something to him being a high-BABIP guy for his career.

“We’ve loved what he does offensively,” Huntington said. “He’s just a baseball player. He goes out there and helps the team win. We talked about (Kevin) Newman with a similar approach. He’s done a good job of closing the holes that he’s had and doesn’t have a lot of those by the nature of the swing. He’s developing some power and some ability to keep outfielders honest and not let them cheat in on him too much. It’s a simple, compact swing. He hits fastballs. He hits breaking balls. He hits changeups. He keeps the barrel in the zone a long time. He makes the pitches come to him.”

STRONG START

Jhan Mariñez made his Pirates debut on Monday, throwing 2.2 innings of scoreless ball while walking two and allowing two hits on 38 pitches. The walks were part of the problem when he was in Milwaukee, but on the whole, Huntington likes what he sees from the right-hander.

“It’s an arm that’s had some success in the past,” Huntington said. “It’s a good arm. It’s a low-to-mid 90s fastball with quality sink to it. It’s a slider that can get swing-and-miss and can get weak contact. When he’s in the zone, he’s a very effective pitcher. He hasn’t been in the zone as much this year. This is the type of guy that we’ve had some success with. He’s had some success. We still see the stuff but aren’t getting the results. That’s why he’s available. Can be we get him back to what allowed him to be successful and if so, we’ll have a nice major-league reliever on our hands.”

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24 COMMENTS

  1. Moving McCutchen from the 3rd spot might help, its actually getting to the point that releasing him might help this team. If someone knows how to look up how many runners he has stranded I will love to know, but it feels that when he comes up with runners in scoring position and less than two out he is incapable of bringing a give me run across.

    • Closest easily available stat is probably RE24 (runs expected with all 24 possibilities of outs/runner positions). Cutch was 4th in MLB in 2014 in creating more runs than average, 7th in 2015, 82nd in 2016 and currently 168th (with a -6.02) for 2017.

      Interestingly (perhaps), Jaso had the highest RE24 for Bucs last year – even higher than Kang. So his getting out of a funk might be more important than we think.

      • It seems there are stats for everything these days, but tracking past vs present thru these is an eye opener. Thanks for providing them.

      • Thanks. This and his defense makes him almost unplayable. It’s unfortunate that there’s no one capable of taking his place.

  2. I don’t know why anyone interviews the gm any more. He never says much of anything other than “we are hesitant to . . . ” never get any sense of urgency from that fellow. Even though the season is tanking, no urgency.

    • Ok let’s play this out. Instead of answering in a calm manner you would have him answer like : “Holy crap. It’s almost the end of May and we are in trouble. I’m on the phone all day and all night trying to get someone–anyone else– in here to replace some of these players who obviously just suck. And if we don’t do something soon then our season is over. Finished. Kaput. “.

      Would that make you fee better? I’m pretty sure the management team is every day analyzing moves that can be made, contacting other teams about trades and so on. Assuming that it isn’t being done just because someone doesn’t say it every day is naive.

      • Yeah, but he makes a good point that I don’t think can be dismissed. Results are results, right? This team was crippled by loss of key players and we make zero moves. Nothing, not even a bench upgrade. What does that communicate to the players? Huntington’s GM speak says no one makes trades in April and May. I just mentioned this in the other post, but the Braves lost Freddie Freeman and immediately picked up Matt Adams. Why can the Braves GM do it, but Huntington can’t? Sure you the circumstances absolutely aren’t Huntington’s fault, (although we did start with a a thin bench full of marginal players), and that plenty of players like McCutchen are underperforming expectations, but it’s the GM’s job to adjust and field the best team he can. I couldn’t think of a more critical time to make a move than after Marte’s suspension, and we replaced Starling Marte with Jose Osuna. I hope the current crop of Pirates and Huntington prove me wrong, I really do. You can argue the challenges are too much to overcome so Neil should do nothing, but I just think there still is talent on this team and we’re just punting on the season before it even really starts by doing nothing. Waiting to make a move at the deadline is too late.

        • We didn’t “start” with a marginal bench. Freese, Jaso, and Frazier are all professional hitters. The back up catcher, Stewart, doesn’t really count. So the only initial weakness was Hanson.
          After Kang was a no show, they went out and got the mediocre Gosselin – then the bench was weak.

          • I can concede your point, and say the bench was at least average to start. Freeze and Frazier are above average players. Jaso is questionable although he maybe turning a corner now, hopefully. You can question the strategy of no true outfielder, but Frazier’s bat is making up for that. But then you lose having his versatility in the infield. Hanson is deadweight. Regardless, that was a side note to my overall point.

            • Hanson has miraculously made his way to the field in 4 of the last 6 days – 2 starts, replacement for Freese after he got tossed, and once as a PH – 4 for 10. When he plays he does well. We have veterans who can be better pinch hitters off the bench like Freese and Jaso, except Hurdle has made them the starters.

              Jaso is 10 for his last 19. His average is now .202. Freese is batting .115 in May (3 for 26). ‘Cutch is batting .155 in May and is on a 1 for 20 skid right now. This team has major issues that need to be addressed with a change at the top – we have ballplayers, so I cannot blame NH. Hurdle needs to go ASAP!

                • bucs: I agree at this particular point, but we should be building and instead we are trying to stand pat and compete by playing 33 and 34 year olds who will be gone shortly. Change is difficult, but I would rather do it all at once – in 2017. And the Cubs bring up their 2015 pick, Ian Happ, put him in CF immediately, and give him the confidence to play. Check out his stats last year at AA – not as good as Kevin Newman who may not get to Pittsburgh until 2018 or 2019.

                  Yogi-ism – baseball is 90% mental; the other half is physical

              • One of the depressing things about Cutch is the number of DPs he hits into. His speed from years past IIRC seldom led to him being doubled up.
                Shame there’s no fill in to sit him for awhile.

    • The real truth Huntington lives in is that he is tied to a $100m payroll when his contending competitors have on average $50m more to work with. Nutting doesn’t let him spend more. So he’s not going to throw money at short terms problems. It’s always about the long term. It’s not an even playing field without a salary cap.

      If you want a Matt Adams type move then start a campaign for a weekly report with Nutting demanding he spend more of the profits and petition to bring parity to MLB payrolls.

      Then we could have some real fun and we could see Huntington compete in a fair market.

  3. Jaso is hitting a ton of fly balls. Of his flies, 40% are hard hit, which is pretty good, and you’d expect would lead to more HR. But only 25% of his flies are pulled, which is probably why he hasn’t had more HR.

    If he’s going for power, he needs to pull the ball more. If he’s going for average, he needs to ditch the FB swing and hit more liners. His current approach isn’t quite there.

    • If Jaso is hitting, he’s playing the field. Not ideal. He has little impact on the success of this team.

  4. A few questions about the statistic that I am unfamiliar with called BABIP.
    1) Wouldn’t this number be higher if the Pirates had more HR hitters
    and more guys with power and average who could also knock it off the
    fence.
    2) Wouldn’t this number be higher if the Pirates did not hit the ball as
    much to the strategically positioned players because of scouting and
    the study of the Pirates tendencies by the other team? In other words
    as Stewart would say, “try hitting it where they are not at.”
    Remember, I am new to all of this, but I just had to ask.

  5. They expect Frasier to maintain his sky high BABIP and all the other guys to suddenly improve dramatically. After 7 weeks I think its safe to say some of those guys are never going to improve their BABIP. In fact a number of those guys just don’t hit the ball that hard. This team has virtually no power. Its a sad state right now when it comes to the Pirate hitters.

  6. I guess when the team is playing poorly one has to look at the positives that are there. They would be playing better if Marte and Kang were playing but they are not.

    • They are talented, but that “team” spark has been missing for a long time.
      Lots of reasons that are beyond statistics. Too many “me” guys and that is not limited to players. That said, Freese getting tossed for arguing a call when he knows the team is very thin is a perfect example of the type of negative attitude that keeps showing itself on this team. Hurdle thinking he needed to stand up for that and getting himself run is just icing on the cake.

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