BRADENTON, Fla. — The Pirates haven’t revealed much of their plans for the batting order this season.
Part of that is probably due to the team’s typical reluctance to be too open with their plans about anything much before they need to be.
But another part of it is because it’s not exactly a simple construction this year. The Pirates legitimately have a ton of options when it comes to lineup construction and a lot of ways they could go about it.
So far, manager Clint Hurdle has declared that Jordy Mercer will hit eighth, the pitcher will bat ninth, and Josh Bell will man the cleanup spot. Using that as a framework, there’s plenty of ways to stack them up.
One of the most interesting spots might be at the very top, where the Pirates have a number of players with experience leading off, but none of them necessarily fit the prototypical leadoff role.
Adam Frazier probably comes closest, with a high batting average and above-average speed, but Frazier doesn’t currently projected to be an everyday member of the lineup. When he’s playing, he’ll lead off. After that, there’s Josh Harrison, Starling Marte, and even newcomer Corey Dickerson to consider.
“When Frazier is in the lineup, he provides a different dynamic that when he’s not,” Hurdle said. “Your leadoff guy could be Frazier, it could be Harrison. Dickerson is a guy that can go there if one or both of those guys are unavailable.”
If the right-handed Harrison leads off and the right-handed Mercer bats eighth, that’ll leave lefties Dickerson, Colin Moran, Gregory Polanco and the switch-hitting Bell all to spots two through seven, with Francisco Cervelli and Marte mixed in. At that point, splitting up the lefties becomes an interesting challenge, but it’s also something the Pirates might not even attempt to do.
“It would be a concern,” Hurdle said. “Unless you want to bull rush a right-hander and stack them all up, like some teams have done against us in the past. We’ve never had enough to do it. We have enough now to do it. We’ll look at it. There may be some days we do it that way.”
Then there’s the interesting dynamic when it comes to speed, power, and the concept of protection. Unlike previous years, the Pirates lineup doesn’t necessarily have one star player where protection is going to be a major concern. Instead, they have a lineup that should go fairly deep with roughly interchangeable parts. The Pirates have six regulars projected by ZiPS to slug over .400 and six regulars projected by ZiPS to have an on-base percentage over .320.
“The lineup’s much longer than we’ve ever had in the past and I believe it’s got much more play in it, much more hit-ability and some more power.” Hurdle said.
Dickerson just came over from the Tampa Bay Rays and an offense that finished seventh in the American League in wRC+ last season and got there with a mix of power and speed. Tampa had 11.4 baserunning runs, second in the AL. He sees the same kind of potential in the Pirates if players like Frazier, Harrison, Marte and Polanco can get on base.
“Whenever you get guys that can run, they’re not going to clog up the bases,” Dickerson said. “When you hit it into the outfield and they’re supposed to go second to home, some guys can’t do that. These guys can run. We’ve got a lot of speed. It’s a good opportunity for anybody that hits behind them. When they’re on base, they make disrupt the pitcher. It’s fun hitting behind guys like that.
“It’s hard to find that perfect mix of players throughout the league that can run and have some hitters that can put the ball out of the yard. We’ve definitely got the speed and a lot of the guys are young, so they’re able to recover better and bring it every day night. They’ve all got high energy. It’s a good clubhouse vibe. It’ll be fun.”
With a lineup that can be rolled out so many different ways, a potential pitfall for Hurdle might be resisting the urge to tinker with it too much.
“We’re looking for some type of consistency of the lineup, there’s no doubt,” he said.
While there’s certainly an advantage to tailoring the lineup to the opponent and the situation, most players feel like they’re more comfortable hitting in a consistent spot or in a consistent situation.
“For guys, it’s just getting some familiarity and knowing where you’re going to be,” Harrison said. “Lineups are going to change based in who’s playing and who’s off that day, but guys have kinda settled into where they’re going to be and have a general idea depending on who’s playing. That’s good for guys to know, if certain guys are playing, where to expect to hit.”
Hurdle said that he’s been putting players where they’ll end up for most of the spring, but hasn’t necessarily rolled out his Opening Day lineup one through nine yet. But even piecemeal, the results have been encouraging. The Pirates have hit 43 home runs to lead the Grapefruit League and seem to be in a good place as a group heading into the regular season.
“I still don’t really feed into spring numbers, but it’s good as a whole that guys are getting their pitch and not missing it,” Harrison said. “I’ve seen my fair share of wind-aided homers. But we got some legit ones, and that goes for all teams. At the end of the day, what happens in Spring Training doesn’t really matter when March 29 comes, but it can give us sign that we’re ready to hit.”