Williams: The Pirates Are Hitting For Power and Nothing Else

One year ago, Jack Suwinski was one of three prospects coming over to the Pirates in the Adam Frazier trade.

Suwinski was in Double-A at the time in the San Diego system, showing a boost in his power production. That resulted in a .282 isolated power (ISO), which didn’t carry over to Altoona, where Suwinski had a .139 ISO to finish the season.

The power returned this year.

Suwinski opened the season in Altoona, hitting three homers in 57 plate appearances, for a small sample sized .333 ISO. The small sample came at the right time, making Suwinski a short-term callup to the majors due to a COVID outbreak in April.

The power remained in the majors.

Suwinski was in the majors for 250 plate appearances, hitting 14 homers and putting up a .230 ISO. The difference between this power and the power he showed in Double-A was that this power came with a low average and on-base percentage. Suwinski was hitting for power, but nothing else.

*****

Oneil Cruz has power.

We’ve seen that power in the majors, for sure. Cruz has five homers in 116 plate appearances this year, and a .200 ISO. Cruz has hit for more power in the minors, and is definitely capable of more power results in the majors.

Just like with Suwinski, Cruz is hitting for power and not much else. Take a look at the MLB results so far.

Cruz: .218/.250/.418

Suwinski: .198/.288/.428

Very similar outcomes. A key difference is that Suwinski draws more walks. The outfielder is striking out 30.4% of the time, but walking 9.6% of the time, making up for the .198 average. Cruz has a higher average, but a 36.2% strikeout rate shows it’s not better contact skills. He also has a 4.3% walk rate.

In each case, power doesn’t do much if it comes with an on-base percentage below .300.

*****

The Pirates just traded Daniel Vogelbach to the Mets. Vogelbach had a nice season at the plate, hitting for a .228/.338/.430 line with 12 homers and a .203 ISO. He joined Suwinski, Cruz, and Bryan Reynolds as the only Pirates with an ISO over .200 this year.

Vogelbach’s overall offense seems obtainable for Suwinski. It would only require a slight drop in strikeouts and an increase in walks. Vogelbach struck out 24.1% of the time, but walked 14.4%.

Last week, Wilbur Miller wrote about how the Pirates aren’t swinging the bat, and Vogelbach was one of the most extreme cases. He’s only swinging 31.9% of the time this year. By comparison, Suwinski is swinging 43.6% of the time.

Somewhere in that difference, Suwinski is making enough bad swing decisions to lead to a difference in walks and strikeouts.

The overall difference? Suwinski was sent to Triple-A, while Vogelbach was sent to the Mets.

*****

I’m going to throw out a few more names of players who were acquired by the Pirates last year, and their 2022 numbers in the majors.

Michael Chavis came over in a smaller deal for left-hander Austin Davis, in a swap of post-prospects. Chavis had a lot of power potential, and has shown that with a .171 ISO. He follows the trend of Suwinski and Cruz in that he is only hitting for power.

The line from Chavis: .236/.275/.407

Diego Castillo was added in the Clay Holmes trade around this time last year. The Pirates called him up to the majors early in the season, and he’s shown the power potential he was advertised as having. Castillo has a .170 ISO and ten homers.

The line from Castillo: .200/.243/.374

Hoy Park came over with Castillo in the Holmes trade. He’s got a .160 ISO in just 59 plate appearances this year.

The line from Park: .220/.281/.380.

One of the players who came over with Suwinski was Tucupita Marcano. He’s had 78 plate appearances in the majors, with a .229/.280/.357 line. That’s not a lot of power, with a .129 ISO.

You don’t need to hit for massive amounts of power to have value though. Ben Gamel has a .133 ISO. He also has a .245/.338/.378 line, and is the fourth most valuable position player on the team this year. He’s not the best MLB player, but he is a consistent MLB player who can provide solid value off the bench.

Like Vogelbach, Gamel excels over all of the other younger hitters in drawing walks. He has a 26.2% strikeout rate, but a 12% walk rate.

Like Vogelbach, Gamel might be traded this month.

Are we starting to see the difference between MLB players and those who are trying to stick from the minors?

*****

I don’t play much golf, but I think the phrase “Drive for show, putt for dough” is pretty common and understandable.

The concept is that you can hit the ball a really long way on your first shot, but it’s really about what you do in the following shots that defines your overall success.

If you’re on a pro-level, par five course, a home run drive might put you in position for a birdie.

You’re not getting that birdie if you shank the next three shots.

One-for-four with a homer and three strikeouts doesn’t work at the top level in any sport.

*****

It’s difficult to hit a home run in the majors.

It’s also difficult to get on base at an above-average rate.

It’s really difficult to do both at the same time.

You see this in the minors as players are developing. It’s almost like there are two approaches.

Do you sell out for power, and try to learn how to hit from a power approach? Or, do you sell out for contact and on-base, but try to find spots to add power?

Those are two extreme approaches, and most players fall on the vast spectrum somewhere between them.

It’s hard to ignore that the Pirates have a lot of players who fall closer to the “sell out for power” extreme.

It’s even more difficult to ignore that these players aren’t really improving at also learning how to hit from this approach.

Suwinski will be a big test. He was sent to Triple-A, which is his first stop at the level after 250 plate appearances in the majors. In the first 18 plate appearances in Triple-A, his results have been the same as the majors, selling out for power and getting nothing else.

Ideally, he can learn better pitch recognition with this power approach, and improve his OBP to Vogelbach territory.

I mean, ideally, he also learns how to hit for a higher average in the process, but that might be asking for too much from this point.

It’s difficult to hit a home run in the majors.

Suwinski has shown he can do that.

So have a lot of other young Pirates.

Now, he’ll get to work to see if he can add the on-base ability to the power. That will be a test to see if the Pirates can develop MLB hitters by slowly adding to and building up their games.

Suwinski isn’t the only test.

The Pirates still have plenty of players trying to add to their power in the majors.

And one of them is Oneil Cruz.

Thus, it’s very important that the Pirates can teach their hitters how to do more than just hit for power in the majors.

THIS WEEK ON PIRATES PROSPECTS

Williams: The Pirates Are Hitting For Power and Nothing Else

Prospect Roundtable: Which Pirates Prospect Are You Watching in the Second Half?

Teaching the MLB Mindset in Triple-A

Johan Montero: Curveball Control Key To First Half Success

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bnlightnd

Seems like there is a common thread here, across players, and across levels of the organization, but especially the majors. Maybe we need some new hitting coaches (again).

SBRO

Hey Tim, I still can’t get access to the premium articles. I’ve sent a couple emails and filled in the form with my receipt #.

Last edited 2 months ago by SBRO
joebaseball

What about TSwags? How is he progressing?

piratemike

The solution is easy, make every player choke up on the bat two or three inches. That way they will concentrate on making contact instead of each at bat swinging from their heels every pitch.

mikeschalke

Let’s just say our offense is very offensive!!!!

MD78

Cruz is a key to this organization…..it needs a superstar or two to actually win.

Right now Cruz could be Darryl Strawberry at a premium defensive position or he could become Joey Gallo. Time will tell.

jeffw3000

Joey Gallo would not be all that bad. Last year he had 111 walks and an OBP of .351. He is struggling this year, but he still has 40 walks. Take Adam Dunn. He rarely hit over .240, but would also walk over 100 times every year, and hit 40+ homers each season. In this current time of the home run a guy like Gallo, Schwarber or Dunn can be valuable as long as they at least get on base by walking.

MD78

I will concede the walks issue but if our most exciting cornerstone bats sub .200 with over 150 Ks, can’t hit lefthanded pitching and moves to the outfield there will be no winning baseball in Pittsburgh. Cruz needs to be a cornerstone not Joey Gallo.

Catch_22

There’s no possible scenario where Cruz becomes Joey Gallo.

NMR

Yeah, no player in baseball swings at a more similar number of balls and strikes than Oneil Cruz.

It would take a monumental shift in discipline for Cruz to become a Gallo type of hitter.

Rob Baran

I’m skeptical he’s picking up slider spin consistently. However he showed a lot of progress in May and June with eye development, and significantly increased his walk rate as a result. He was doing exactly what we wanted once he started hitting in AAA.

That all changed the moment he was rushed to the majors…

Last edited 2 months ago by Rob Baran
TNBucs

Cruz’s ability to lay off pitches and take walks will be the difference in him becoming a star and simply being a solid starter (or possibly worse).

skliesen

Pitch recognition is a big key performance indicator for all power hitters.

Love how he’s able to turn on high fastballs. The HR vs Alcantara was a real eye opener.

Catch_22

It’s impressive to turn on 99 mph heat, but that pitch was a mistake pitch.

PirateRican21

Most home runs are!

Catch_22

Well yeah, there’s that

skliesen

Question, if Pirates have numerous young players experiencing the same issue, which this article clearly illustrates, doesn’t it say the indivualized development approach is really a bunch of crap? If not, how do they explain this?

NMR

Curious to see how organizational strategy will then have to be completely overhauled on account of trying to actually win baseball games.

emjayinTN

I mentioned yesterday that Suwinski’s 76/24 K/BB was about a 3/1 rate. Is that bad for a Rookie? We sign guys who have been around the league for 3 or more years and they are much worse. For instance, Chavis is near a 6/1 rate with 77K/13 BB, and Marisnick in only 77 AB has a rate of 6/1 with 24K/4 BB.

Bottom line, Suwinski is hitting a HR every 15.86 AB, Cruz is hitting a HR every 18.83 AB. Fantastic! Very un-Pirate-like numbers.

Bring them all up, let them swing the bats, get exposed, and learn.

Rob Baran

Haven’t the players fallen in Love with the All or Nothing approach at the plate? I’ll always had the impression the players are driving this.

ArkyWags

The players drive the all or nothing approach to just hit dingers? That may be part of it, but I think the larger part is pitching is so good, the all or nothing approach is the reaction to that. Almost every guy throws 95 plus with a really good breaking ball. So what’s the easiest way to score? Try to string three singles together or jerk one into the stands?

Last edited 2 months ago by ArkyWags
NMR

It’s not a bunch of crap, but it’s also not any sort of panacea. More style than substance.

skliesen

I fell in love with the concept. Not sure I’m quite as enamored after seeing the actual results this year so far. Probably way too early to draw any difinitive conclusions though.

NMR

It’s a really great story!

Bucs'N'Pucks (Jeff Reed)

What worries me is if this is a by-product of Andy Haines, and if it is, will they recognize it and make a change? Which itself would present a problem, as then you’re bringing in another new face and new teachings.

That’s at the big league level, whereas I think the minors is at least showing some inklings of promise. A handful of players seem to be having breakthroughs now entering the second half.

NMR

Save for Diego Castillo, isn’t this about exactly what should’ve been expected for each?

Michael Chavis was Michael Chavis before he’d ever heard of Andy Haines.

Tucu and Park are fringe prospects with this kind of outcome completely within possibility.

Jack Suwinski was a noted platoon power bat who’s posting a robust 121 wRC+ against righties and predictably struggling against lefties.

Oneil Cruz has an immature approach at the plate, hardly any time to refine said approach at the highest level of minor league ball, and is predictably getting picked apart by the best pitchers in the world as has occurred against more top hitting prospects with disciplines issues than we can count.

Diego Castillo, known mostly for his contact skills, is the only surprise in the bunch.

I blame Haines and Cherington for their failure to get the most out of Kebryan Hayes, who remains a swing change away from utilizing the power he himself has in his bat, but the rest of these dudes either are who they are or were handed to him with flaws.

TNBucs

It’s not that these players haven’t become, say, stars but that I’m not seeing evidence that our coaches are getting the best out of what they have to work with. Has anyone taken a step forward at the plate this season? Has anyone shown the ability to adjust as the league adjusts to them? If all they’re able to do is to get what’s “expected for each”, why not try someone else?

Contrast that with the pitching where guys have progressed and several have achieved beyond what was expected. I want to see the same kind of thing happening with our hitters. In fact, it’s being able to identify progress with the pitching staff that strengthens my belief that we can improve on the coaches tasked with helping our hitters (namely Haines and Shelton).

NMR

Isn’t the elephant in the room there that you’re comparing major league veterans (pitching) to minor leaguers who probably should still be developing in AAA (hitters)?

I’m by no means married to Andy Haines, but placing blame on him for this offense is scapegoating to me.

Last edited 2 months ago by NMR
Catch_22

Hayes is the real crime here. If they can help him lift the ball, you got a 7-8 win player, perennial All-Star and guy who wins an MVP or 2.

Instead, we have the best defensive 3bmen I’ve ever seen, but hits like Jose Tabata. It’s still a 3-4 player, but they really need to get that last piece of development with him.

TNBucs

The fact that the Brewers, the organization that should be our model, let Haines go was a red flag for me from the beginning. He’s done nothing to alleviate my concerns.

skliesen

What worries me more is if they give DS another season at the helm. He was hired for his expertise in hitting and the Pirates have consistently been one of the worst teams in MLB at hitting since he’s been the Manager.

I hope the players have the opportunity for better leadership next year. If that means Haines is one and done, so be it.

NMR

Roster an absolute shit lineup and blame the Manager?

Ted Williams couldn’t get these bums to hit.

TNBucs

When Eckstein was fired and Haines hired, part of the justification was that they needed a hitting coach with the same philosophies on hitting as Shelton. He was clearly Shelton’s choice and if Haines goes (which I think he should), Shelton should go to. I fully expect Cherignton to give Shelton one more year, maybe two (the five-year plan!) but hoping otherwise.

Maybe Shelton will be good in a second managerial stint but he’s showing there was a reason teams passed on him in choosing a manager even though he was widely respected as a coach. (There is a non-zero chance he gets better in this position, it just very rarely happens as it usually takes the reflection that comes with losing a job for one to change.)

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