Williams: How Can the Pirates Fix Their Offense?

The Pirates called up their top hitting prospect, Austin Meadows, in mid-May. They’ve seen him put up a .343/.370/.588 line in 108 plate appearances so far. That’s exactly the type of production you would want to see from a rookie, and it’s that type of production that can boost an offense.

The problem is that the Pirates’ offense has been anything but boosted. The team has a .232/.298/.369 line in the last month. Their offense ranks last in the NL and 27th in MLB during that span.

Obviously this isn’t on Meadows. He’s one of few players who is performing during this stretch, and the poor results from the rest of the team really highlight how disappointing it is that a Rookie of the Year campaign is being wasted.

So what can the Pirates do to fix their offense?

Meadows is the only hitter with an OPS over .800 in the last month. Jordy Mercer is second with a .794 OPS. Colin Moran is third with a .754 OPS. The only other hitters with an OPS above .700 are David Freese, who is a bench player, and Francisco Cervelli, who is now on the disabled list.

Corey Dickerson started the season hot, but has a .648 OPS in the last month. Gregory Polanco is at a .681 OPS.

In the last seven games, the Pirates have started Starling Marte six times, Polanco five times, and Meadows and Dickerson four times. The typical seven game span is about that level, with Meadows and Dickerson usually matching Polanco for playing time. Considering the results, the Pirates could probably benefit from Meadows getting an extra start or two at the expense of Polanco and Dickerson, at least until the current slumps from those outfielders end.

But giving Meadows an extra game or two isn’t going to solve this offense.

Josh Bell has a .642 OPS over the last month, and has been struggling all year.

Josh Harrison has a .622 OPS in the last month.

Starling Marte is down there at .639, and he’s supposed to be the best hitter on the team.

Elias Diaz has a .682 OPS, which isn’t bad for a strong defensive catcher.

The problem is that on any given night, the Pirates have 5-6 starters with an OPS under .700 in the last month.

The bigger problem is that the Pirates lack help where they need offensive upgrades.

They don’t have another Meadows ready to step into the majors, which means they have to ride out the slumps from Marte, Polanco, and Dickerson.

They don’t have a first base option who can step up and be a starter instead of Josh Bell. Alan Saunders had the idea of Francisco Cervelli moving to first base, which could be interesting, as Diaz has been a slight offensive upgrade to Bell, and would get more starts in that scenario when Cervelli returns. But that’s a small upgrade.

They could go with Kevin Kramer over Josh Harrison, but I doubt they will move on from Harrison so quickly, and I wouldn’t count on any rookie to make a seamless jump to the majors — which is part of what makes the current run from Meadows so impressive.

Perhaps Jung Ho Kang can figure out hitting in Triple-A and eventually help out in the majors. He’s doing well the last few games in Indianapolis. But the problem is that his top two positions — shortstop and third base — are two areas where the Pirates are getting some offensive production. Maybe Kang could be an option at second, but that requires him adjusting to Triple-A and the majors to show that he’s an upgrade. So there’s a possible upgrade, but it will take some time to figure out if he can readjust, and by that time, Harrison might have already rebounded.

The same goes for Kevin Newman. His top position is shortstop, but you’re not replacing Mercer right now. He could play second base, but I’d count on Harrison to put up better numbers going forward.

The biggest thing that the Pirates can hope for right now is that their internal options turn things around, and quickly. They could make some smaller changes, like giving Meadows and Diaz some additional starts. However, the biggest impact will come from any rebounds seen from Marte, Harrison, Bell, Dickerson, and Polanco. They could also look for outside help, but it’s hard to know where to look with so many under-performing players in the lineup. It also might be pointless to add a boost until some of those players begin to rebound.

Until the Pirates see a rebound from their offense, or see outside help arriving, they’re going to be wasting some good pitching, and could be in for more results like last night’s game.

Tim started Pirates Prospects in 2009 from his home in Virginia, which was 40 minutes from where Pedro Alvarez made his pro debut in Lynchburg. That year, the Lynchburg Hillcats won the Carolina League championship, and Pirates Prospects was born from Tim's reporting along the way. The site has grown over the years to include many more writers, and Tim has gone on to become a credentialed MLB reporter, producing Pirates Prospects each year, and will publish his 11th Prospect Guide this offseason. He has also served as the Pittsburgh Pirates correspondent for Baseball America since 2019. Behind the scenes, Tim is an avid music lover, and most of the money he gets paid to run this site goes to vinyl records.

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