Pittsburgh Pirates Offensive Woes: The Neal Huntington Defense


So, we listened to the Neal Huntington show before the Pirates took on the Astros on Mother’s Day.   If you follow @rumbunter on twitter (and we know you do, along with following the rest of the Rumbunter crew, right?), you know we try to add some sound bites from the show each week.  The Pirates GM addressed the Pirates offensive woes with a very passionate plea of batting average on balls in play as it relates to Clint Barmes and Rod Barajas.

He spoke generally, so we decided to take a look at the career BABIP for both Barmes and Barajas:

The Pirates starting shortstop put up a BABIP of .279 in 2011. It was .263 in 2010 and .271 in 2009 .   Currently, Barmes has a BABIP of .189.

The Pirates starting catcher put up a BABIP of .244 in 2011,  .236 in 2010 and .229 in 2009.   Currently, Barajas has a BABIP of .175 .

We understand what Huntington is saying, but Barmes has a one percent walk rate. One percent!   His strikeout rate is the highest he has ever had at 25.7 percent.   The BABIP should  definitely increase – the Bucco GM is right about that fact.  However, will Barmes be able to show at least some plate discipline in the near future?  Without at least a little bit of improvement, it’s impossible to see his BABIP ever reaching the numbers he has shown in recent seasons.

Barajas is actually right around his career strikeout rate of 16 percent, while he has shown improvement in his walk rate and has it up almost two percentage points over his abysmal career number of five percent.   Where Barajas has struggled – and remember it’s just 75 AB we are talking about – is his homer per fly ball rate.  Last season it was 11 percent, this year it’s just about three percent.   He is also hitting more ground balls and fewer line drives.

Hot Rod is what he is.  The guy swings for the fences; the problem is the fence in PNC Park is a bit deeper than he is used to.

While Huntington sometimes avoids speaking directly about one player, he didn’t yesterday.  The GM talked like he had just chugged a Red Bull 40 and was in rare form.  Huntington wanted to be certain that Barajas got credit for the tremendous work the pitching staff has done.  It was a classy move.

But the Bucs troubles aren’t just Barmes and Barajas: they just happen to be the ones who garner the most attention.  The Pirates offense is 28th in hitting at .222, last in OBP at .275, and last in OPS at .619.  But the thought of making a move to improve the offense was brushed aside when he said,

"“…we could go get a league average bat if we wanted to be stupid …” Neal Huntington"

Huntington was so fired up about the question the absurdity of making a trade that he spewed this gem:

"“…if we want to give up Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon we could get somebody’s fourth outfielder.”"

The man still believes in the Bucs offense.  We don’t.  This team needs a spark.  The pitching staff can’t possibly continue to carry the ball club.  Huntington said any improvement will have to come internally.  Well, that sounds just fine to us.  Pull the trigger when you’re ready, because with just some average offensive production this team can make some noise based on what the pitching staff is putting up each game.

The Pirates road trip this week will be a tough one.  The team will head to Miami to play the white-hot Marlins who, while not ripping the cover off the ball still, managed to jump over .500 with a monster West Coast trip.  The Pirates offense will face what some consider to be the Marlins best pitcher in Anibal Sanchez, and the one that blew them away last season in Josh Johnson.  The underrated starter is in a contract year and is throwing up some sick numbers to boost his value for when he hits the market.

How the offense responds in Miami and DC will be interesting.  But whatever you do – if you see the Bucs GM, don’t ask him when he’s making a move for Adam Dunn.