The Disappearance of Alex Presley


The Pittsburgh Pirates have a problem.   The team needs production from the leadoff spot in the lineup.  It’s a problem that most of us have overlooked because the team has been winning at a ridiculous pace.

We went to take a look at how Alex Presley was really performing and what we saw just jumped off the page. Look at how the production of Presley matches up with what Jose Tabata has done this season.  Both have a similar number of at bats, both have scored 32 runs, Presley has two fewer hits in nine fewer at-bats than Tabata.

Jose has  four more doubles, both players have three triples, Presley has three more homers.  Both have struckout at a high rate with Presley getting punched out 51 times in his 243 ABs.

The bottom line is that Presley and Tabata are both hitting .230 and their OPS is identical at a putrid .636.

Presley, 26, began the season with the Pirates and was their Opening Day starter in left field.  He hit .220 (26-for-118) with two homers and seven RBI in 34 big league games before being optioned to Indianapolis on May 16.

It was baffling to watch Presley struggle.  He was slapping the ball and not putting the barrel to the baseball as he had last season when he hit well for numerous periods of the season.

But unlike Tabata who is struggling mightily in Triple-A, Presley was sent down and caught fire.  In 18 AAA games, Presley found that stroke.  He mashed.  He collected 18 hits with seven of those going for extra bases—two doubles, three triples, five home runs, 14 RBI and 14 runs scored.  He had a .303 average (10-for-33), four homers and 10 RBI over his last ten games for Indianapolis.

Since he has returned on June 5th, he hasn’t matched those numbers.  Not even close.  In the last ten games, he has struck out eleven times, walked three, and is hitting .200.  He has spread his hits around and actually has 11 hits in his last 16 starts while hitting lefties to the tune of a .283 average.

But his struggles against right handers are well known, he’s hitting under .220 after last nights 0hhhh-fer.  A crazy stat that shows the value of Presley scoring runs for the Bucs is that the team is 21-4 when he scores.

The disappearance of Presley has come from a few sources–his battting average on balls in play has taken an .80 point nosedive. Last season his BABIP was .349, this season it’s at .269. Presley is walking slightly less, striking out more, and his isolated slugging numbers are also down .31 points from .167 to .136.

Looking deeper thanks to FanGraphs, Presley is hitting five percent less line drives, a really scary ten percent more groundballs, and is popping up for more infield flyouts.  We were curious as to the reason why that could be happening.

The most telling stat, if you buy into those type of things, is the fact that Presley is seeing a first pitch strike at a much higher rate than he did last season.

In 2011, when Presley performed at a much more respectable .298/.339/.465 clip with a wOBA of .350 his F-strike percentage was 57.1.  Looking at the performance of Presley in 2012, the Bucs left fielder has seen a first pitch strike 69.9 percent of the time.

It’s been a hole he hasn’t been able to dig himself out of to this point, and with the trade deadline looming, his opportunities to turn around seem all but over.  The Pirates have the third worst on-base percentage from their leadoff spot.

We have to think that is going to be changed very soon by the Pirates leadership.