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.”
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.”