Neil Walker returns to a Pittsburgh Pirates team that is one of the hottest in Major League Baseball. The Pirates want to go on a run in the National League Central and now the team has its’ complete lineup ready to do just that. Can the ball club chase down the Milwaukee Brewers? Sure. Why not? The team has a lethal offense with all of the bullets now in the chamber.
A few things lead me to believe that the Bucs offense is poised to jump to the top of the statistical leader boards. One–consider that Walker is having the best season of his career before his appendectomy surgery.
The Pittsburgh Kid had more homers, more RBI, and less errors than any other NL second baseman. Guess what? After a two week absence, Walker still does.
The numbers behind the numbers also show that Walker has room for improvement. The hits are likely to continue to fall as his BABIP isn’t off the charts, but sits at .292. The isolated slugging numbers lead all National League second baseman too. If you click the Fangraphs NL second baseman stats chart below, you see that the defensive metrics aren’t in love with Walker, or his WAR number would be much higher.
The Bucs get to add a player that worked his ass off in the offseason, was the first player to get to Bradenton, and spoke this offseason about being consistent again. It’s all paying off.
The 6’3″ switch hitter returns to a potent lineup that now has every player that was dreamed about heading into the season with Gregory Polanco playing the part of the natural in right field. The Bucs lead MLB in on base percentage, yes even ahead of the A’s when pitchers stats are removed. The Pirates offense sits at number six in standard metrics, but when looking at the more advanced numbers, the Pirates offense checks in at number three. [Fangraphs-click to embiggen]
The teams wRC+ trails only the Los Angeles Dodgers despite having one of the lowest ISO numbers—the Bucs are worse than all teams in the Top 10 except St. Louis. So there is room for improvement and reason to believe it will actually happen as well.
Pedro Alvarez, Jordy Mercer, and the 1B platoon are all positions that will likely improve moving forward. The team BABIP isn’t over the top either. Sure Josh Harrison is likely to cool off, but does anyone really see Starling Marte playing as bad as he did in the first half of the season moving forward? We don’t. Add Polanco. Add Walker.
We think it will all add up to the Pirates offense emerging as a juggernaut in the National League. The team has seen more sliders than any other club in the NL (17.9%) and has started to take advantage of what most staffs thought was a weakeness–hitting the breaking ball. Clint Hurdle made a commitment to improve the offense this year and thus far, and moving forward, it looks like the players are finally buying in to what he is preaching. The Pirates offense is poised to make a run, let’s trust they stay healthy and the pitching staff can continue to make improvements from one of the worst in the game.
After his rehab game for the Bradenton Marauders, Walker said he thinks his right where he needs to be.
Yeah. We couldn’t agree more.
And with the team having money in their coffers as the trade deadline approaches, this Pirates team is starting to look more and more dangerous.