The Pittsburgh Pirates were dealt a big blow this week as they found out that Josh Harrison would miss six weeks with a thumb injury. The team rebounded from that news with two wins over the Padres, despite scoring just five runs. The good news is that the team has more depth than we’ve seen in the past and are in a position to fill this void without seeing their performance suffer too much. However, the Pirates might want to think about tweaking the lineup a bit to compensate for their lead-off hitter being out.
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The immediate response has been to put Gregory Polanco back into the lead-off spot. He responded with a game winning, eighth inning triple on Tuesday. However, Polanco’s struggles are well documented. His on-base percentage this year is .304 and he posted a .307 mark last season, not exactly what you’re looking for in a lead-off hitter.
I’ve been over this lineup stuff in the past, I wrote a piece about optimizing the Pirates lineup in the pre-season. Basically, people much smarter than I have studied this and made some mathematical conclusions. They have ranked the batting positions in order of how important it is to avoid outs at each spot. That list is: #1, #4, #2, #5, #3, #6, #7, #8, #9. While this isn’t a 100% proven theory (and even if it was, the implications would be minimal), it’s interesting to see.
The Pirates have been batting their best hitter, Andrew McCutchen in the three hole steadily since 2011. He has constantly led the team in batting average and on-base percentage. If the Pirates believed in studies like the on above, they would be batting him lead-off. However, you can see the reason for wanting him hitting third.
The problem is that the Pirates now don’t have a lot of guys that you can trust to get on base at a good rate. The team has three players with an OBP over .350, McCutchen and the two catchers – Francisco Cervelli and Chris Stewart. That’s not to say the team hasn’t seen production from other hitters, but few fit in to what you want at the top of the lineup.
Therefore, I would like to propose a new lineup for the Pirates, at least until Harrison comes back. I’m pretty positive that Clint Hurdle reads Rum Bunter nightly, so if you see this happen you can certainly give me credit.
Here’s what I’d go with:
I’m hitting Cutch first because he gets on base and has speed, Cervelli second because he hasn’t been striking out a ton and also has a high on-base percentage, and I want Marte fourth as he’s not a bad lead-off option himself for when the Pittsburgh Pirates go 1-2-3 in the first.
If Polanco starts looking more competent and bunching hits together, he is a good fit for the lead-off spot, but he’s just not performing well enough right now to be the first guy to get an extra at-bat.