The Pittsburgh Pirates scored the 27th fewest runs last season. Part of the reason for that was having the second highest strikeout rate in the majors.
It’s an interesting thing when digging into it, as their plate discipline numbers on Fangraphs speak to one simple suggestion.
Be more aggressive in the strike zone.
Pittsburgh hitters swung at only 31.7% of the pitches outside of the strike zone last year, the 10th lowest rate in all the majors. They also had the fourth best contact rate (86.7%) within the zone.
The issue? They took strike calls at a higher rate than any other team in the majors (18.2% called strike rate), which also resulted in the worst zone-swing rate in baseball (65.3%).
Maybe no player can benefit more from a little more aggression than Oneil Cruz. The rookie shortstop swung at just over half of the pitches in the zone (54.3%), resulting in a 21.7% called strike rate.
Oneil Cruz over everything! 😱 pic.twitter.com/ApwgaEFUnX
— MLB (@MLB) June 30, 2022
Jack Suwinski (63.2%) and Ke’Bryan Hayes (63.5%) were two other regulars that also finished with a below team average zone-swing rate last season, but also didn’t chase much out of the zone as well.
They will have some help, as some of the offensive help they brought in during the offseason all have a track record of excelling in these specific categories.
Both Andrew McCutchen and Ji-Man Choi have zone-swing rates of over 70%, with Carlos Santana just south of that mark (66.6%). They also don’t swing at pitches outside of the zone, with an O-Swing% each in the low-to-mid-20s, whereas the Pirates as a team were over 30%.
It seemed like a very specific philosophy that the Pirates went with to try and work deeper into counts, which in theory is a great idea that worked to moderate success. As a team, they finished middle of the pack in walk rate, which is fine, unless you’re not capitalizing on pitches in the zone.
While it’s never a bad idea to try and make the opposing starting pitcher work harder, we saw the power that this lineup can have at times, so a more aggressive approach inside the zone could unlock so many more potential runs.
The Pirates made it a point to add more offense to support the pieces they already have, all of which help in being more aggressive in the zone. We will just have to wait to see if that results in more runs during the season
Highlight of the Day
Pirates Prospects Daily
By Tim Williams
**In the latest Pirates Winter Report, John Dreker digs into what outfield prospect Solomon Maguire learned from older competition this winter.
**The Pirates added to their scouting department in Puerto Rico.
**Missed yesterday? Anthony looked at three Pirates players to watch in the World Baseball Classic.
Song of the Day
Anthony began writing over 10 years ago, starting a personal blog to cover the 2011 MLB draft, where the Pirates selected first overall. After bouncing around many websites covering hockey, he refocused his attention to baseball, his first love when it comes to sports. He eventually found himself here at Pirates Prospects in late 2021, where he covers the team’s four full season minor league affiliates.
Bad hitters will see more strikes before 2 strikes and less strikes after 2 strikes, pitchers tend not to nibble vs bad hitters and make them chase with 2 strikes.Plus I don’t really care about what the vets do at the plate ,but I really care what the young players do.
Having some legitimate veterans in the batting order should help the “kids” who still have less than a year of MLB Service. Of the 172 days it takes for a full year of service, Rodolfo Castro is at 127, Jack Suwinski is at 118, Oneil Cruz is at 110, Cal Mitchell is at 96, and Ji-Hwan Bae is at 13. Sure, at the plate they were exposed last year to a certain degree, but that is a part of the learning curve.
Defense should be much better in 2023, and the pitching from the Rotation and the BP should also be much better and much deeper, all of which should provide a lot more opportunities to win.
This article absolutely matched what I saw from Oneil last year. Taking fastball strikes, then swinging at garbage off-speed pitches. Too much guessing is what my thought was.
Running up pitch counts is just counter-productive, and a bad strategy because:
1) hitting is hard enough, without making it harder
2) most teams have good bullpens these days, so there is little benefit getting to the bullpen “early”
3) if statistically pitchers get hit harder the third time through the order, then why even try to knock him out via a pitch count before that?
4) probably a good idea to face a teams 4th or 5th starter, as long as possible, if you can’t hit him, doubtful you are going to hit their bullpen any better.
5) once a starter leaves, then there is no point in worrying about pitch counts, but now you have to change your approach as a batter, which is usually not a good idea (see point 1)
6) scoring 5 runs will get the starter out early!
The only counter to the above is if you are facing an ace. Or maybe with a pitch clock now a pitcher will get tired more quickly and start to see their pitching strength fall off earlier.
I couldn’t disagree more with this list. Not trying to be “mean” but this makes no sense.
Hitting is about discipline, knowing the pitches you can drive, capitalizing on mistakes, and putting yourself in counts that afford better odds for favorable outcomes. Making a pitcher labor through an inning or two or an entire outing is paramount to a successful hitting philosophy; guys get tired and make mistakes, mistakes turn into hard hits and walks, which result in runs. The psychology alone of knocking a starter out early is huge, while getting to the bullpen early on the first game of a three or four game set can be the difference in winning a series.
I mean, numbers 3, 4, and 5?! Third time thru the order stats; it’s about pitch count bc the hitter has seen everything the pitcher has to offer by then. There are few surprises. Why not accomplish this the second time thru the order?! How do you face a starter “as long as possible”? I don’t even know what that means. Isn’t the penultimate goal for the opposing team to eventually run out of pitchers? I would think this effectively increases your odds of winning a game, if not a series. Batter’s approach; I’d much rather face a guy I know is only throwing two pitches than one who can throw three or four for strikes.
Discipline is about swinging at hit-able pitches and not swinging at the vary hard to hit ones. Never said I was against that. Taking a 1-0 strike down the middle because you don’t want to end the at bat on pitch number 2 is counter productive. Pitchers labor because you get men on base and score runs, not because you went down 1-2-3, but managed to extract 18 pitches. Knocking a pitcher out early is done by scoring runs, not via taking pitches to increase the pitch count. Getting to a bullpen early to help out later in the series, so that sounds good on paper but usually never works out that way due to stuff like “well in game 2 we faced their ace and they only needed 1 reliever”, or game 2 was a blow out and mop up relievers pitched. or the other team has six good relievers anyway. Optimally batting to win each game is going to get better results. “As long as possible”, so why try to knock the Reds #5 pitcher out of the game via pitch count, he is not that good, it is fine to face him in the next inning, you should want to face the Reds #5 pitcher all day long, he is hitable.
High pitch counts is a by-product of a good hitting team, and poor hitting teams can not do it artificially by not swinging at hit-able pitches.
I’m not advocating for taking pitches as a hitting philosophy or changing your approach at the plate to make pitchers throw more pitches. You’re fixated on this pitch count thing; I only mentioned it in the context of third-time thru the order. I think you’re contradicting yourself now. Why would you NOT want to knock the Reds #5 pitcher out of the game bc you scored a shitload of runs?
Your last question doesn’t address my comment, as I said to knock the pitcher out “via pitch count”.
I’m not fixated on pitch count, it was a comment to an article which talked about, “They [the Pirates] took strike calls at a higher rate than any other team in the majors “.
What I was commenting on is that the Pirates philosophy seems to be to go deep into counts to make the pitcher work harder, which means throw more pitches, which means “pitch count”. The article talks about “It seemed like a very specific philosophy that the Pirates went with to try and work deeper into counts” .. and my point was that there are a number reasons I think this philosophy is counter-productive, meaning we score less runs per game using this philosophy.
Yeah, I don’t think that’s their hitting philosophy, so I can’t really opine on it. And, if it was their philosophy, they were absolutely abysmal at it.
All good points, but the article is about the individual AB’s our batters are having, not about running the pitch counts up on starters. Each AB is a contest within the contest. The goal is to win more AB’s than the past several seasons…….thus having better offensive production, ie. runs scored.
The team philosophy effects the individual. I have felt from watching the games and listening to players and coaches comment the last few years that a quality AB meant “making the pitcher work”, meaning the pitcher needed to throw more pitches, as if one of the goals was increasing the pitch count. This meant that swinging at a ball early in the count was “bad”, and even swinging at a “strike” early in the count was not so good (unless it produced a hit). Vogelbach was praised for his “patience” while others were criticized for being “free swingers”. I thought too many batters were trying to be like Vogelbach last year. What works for him maybe doesn’t work for Cruz. I think the mindset should be that hits and walks are good, outs and especially strike outs are not good, and each batter should concentrate just on that, and not on how many pitches he made the pitcher throw in the process.
Going deep into the count isn’t always a bad thing though. A batter gets to see different pitches, what the pitcher has, espec if batter hasn’t faced the pitcher much in the past. Collecting that data can pay off in a later AB.
I have some issues. A lot of coaches encourage hitters to be very selective until until two strikes. “What pitches can you do damage to? Spit on the others.” Is that the Bucs’ approach?
Cutch used to be an extreme example, but backed off. Aside from anomalous years he just swings at fewer strikes than average. The same can be said of Choi.
Santana consistently swings at fewer strikes than average.
Joe swings at fewer strikes than Cutch, Choi, or Santana.
These guys generally ignore strikes they don’t like. They also swing at fewer balls than average.
And I submit that swinging at balls is Cruz’s real problem. He’s seriously coloring outside the lines.
Reynolds O swing % went from 24% to 31% last year. He has a great Z swing%, but for him to be the guy who garners MVP votes, he actually needs to be less aggressive at the plate.
Maybe being surrounded by better hitters this year will cause him to be more comfortable taking his walks.
all he has to do it flick at the ball and touch it and it will go over the fence – – – doesn´t even need to swing hard
Two days in a row with a quality song of the day.
Let’s hope it works. Easier said than done, tho.
There was an interesting FanGraphs article about hitters who missed the most meatballs middle/middle, in the zone. You would expect names like Javier Baez or something.
But no,, it was Goldschmidt, freeman, soto, Vlad, etc. the best of the best hitters.
Why? The reason is they swing at all of the meatballs. All of them. They miss the most but also hit the most.
The pirates passiveness definitely appears to be a team wide plan to try to improve plate discipline by swinging less, generally.
The next step, swinging at the right pitches, traditionally has not been something easy to teach.
Great comment Sewer!
Nick Gonzales is exactly this type of hitter
Swings at the strikes (Z’s)
Of course he misses some of them 🙂
It’s funny that Fangraphs has dropped him to a 40-grade prospect
He was arguably the best player on the best team in the AFL and still swung and missed a bunch
Another player who fits this mold is Sammy Siani – lots of swing and miss but he swings at the right pitches
I think that’s the disconnect; being selective is not a passive strategy. It appears passive bc the Pirate’s young hitters have failed miserably at the execution.
Good point. Pirates best hitters need to be more aggressive on pitches in the zone. For example, Cruz had a Z swing % of only 51.5%, whereas Aaron Judge in his rookie season was 63.4% and 67.6% this past year.
This is just one example, but you and Anthony are right, for the Pirates to score more runs they need to make Pitchers afraid to throw strikes. I guarantee you Pitchers were afraid to throw strikes to Judge last year, and he still belted 62 HR’s.
Do they need to be more aggressive in the zone? Judge swung at fewer balls and fewer strikes than average.
I think it depends on the hitter
Nick Gonzales is a good example of a hitter who should swing at most every hittable strike
I think the Z-contact statistics is often misunderstood / misinterpreted
On a 0-0 count with no runners on base, a swinging strike, a looking strike, and a foul ball give the same result
A player / prospect should not be downgraded because they swing and miss vs patiently take a pitch