The Pirates Offense Is Fine With Jeff Branson


Fitting a narrative and trying to push an agenda is done a lot by the media, by people, or whatever, it’s something that has and always will happen. But there’s times when people push an agenda and try to create a false narrative, especially after a period or small stretch of time in which things happen they don’t agree with. There can be factual evidence to prove contrary to these narratives, causing the people to use small instances to try and support their theories, and they’ll be afraid to admit they’re wrong, despite the overwhelming facts to prove otherwise. Such is the case with the Pirates offense, especially the offense under current hitting coach Jeff Branson.

Feb 26, 2014; Bradenton, FL, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates hitting coach Jeff Branson (2) talks with right fielder Andrew Lambo (57) works out prior to the game at McKechnie Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

Branson was hired before the start of the 2014 season after Jay Bell, after one year as Pirates hitting coach, before he left to be the bench coach in Cincinnati with friend Bryan Price. That 2013 year with Bell as the coach was the year the Pirates finally pushed through their late season struggles, and reached the playoffs. That 2013 team focused strongly on their pitching staff, producing the league’s third best ERA. Their hitting on the other hand was not very strong. That year the Pirates slashed a very weak .245/.313/.396, scoring only 634 runs, and having a terrible .230 batting average with runners in scoring position. They ranked 22nd in average, 17th in on base percentage, 16th in slugging percentage, 20th in runs, and their batting average with runners in scoring position? 27th. Now that is problematic, not what they are doing this year.

Branson joined the Pirates in 2003 when he became the hitting coach with Williamsport, served as manager for Williamsport, Hickory, and Lynchburg, before becoming the hitting coach in Indianapolis in 2009. He was the hitting coach for Indy until the end of the 2012 season and then became a big league coach – becoming the assistant hitting coach – in 2013 under Jay Bell. And after Bell left, the Pirates stayed in house and hired Branson to the role of hitting coach, a job in which he still serves today. And while he has been the hitting coach of the Pirates, Branson has seen his share offensive success.

In his first year at the helm, the club finished 10th in all of baseball with 682 runs, a 48 run improvement, and those 682 were the fourth best in the National League. The Pirates led the NL, and were fifth in baseball, in walks with 520, a year after finishing 17th in the Major Leagues with 469. The Bucs slashed .259/.330/.404, which was the fifth best average, third best on base percentage, and seventh best slugging percentage. Their batting average with runners in scoring position was .249, ranking them 18th in baseball. All rather impressive improvements in year one of Jeff Branson. Year two saw the Pirates score 697 runs, dropping from spot 10 in 2014 to spot 11 in 2015. The club slashed .260/.323/.396, finishing ninth, ninth, and 21st respectively. A big step back in the slugging department, but pretty on par with average and runs scored. The most important number might be their .272 batting average with runners in scoring position, which was good enough for seventh in baseball and third in the National League. The batting average in runners in scoring position last year also didn’t fit the narrative last year that the “Pirates couldn’t get it done with runners on.” I find it to be really amazing how these facts prove irrational thoughts wrong. But overall is the best way to look at Branson’s short tenure. The club has slashed .260/.327./400, ranking sixth, fourth, and eighth in those categories. They’ve scored 1401 runs, which ranks in the middle of the pack at twelfth (still an improvement), and is third in the National League. The Pirates have hit .260 with runners in scoring position, ranking tenth in the league and fifth in the national league. The Pirates have done well on offense and have really shown that they are an offensive threat.

Aug 9, 2015; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates right fielder Gregory Polanco (25) and first baseman Sean Rodriguez (3) react after scoring runs against the Los Angeles Dodgers during the seventh inning at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports /

Of course you could choose to be illogical and claim two wild card defeats or going 5-35, a .143 average with runners in scoring position, in the series against the Reds. Because I mean, who doesn’t choose to pick ridiculously small samples, like a three game set in games four through six, or choosing games in which they faced a pitcher who had one of the greatest playoff stretch’s or the games hottest pitcher? What is baseball with being worked up about nothing and making asinine statements when data and hard facts prove wrong? You could either look at the data and realize that the Pirates have had a very strong offense under current hitting coach Jeff Branson, or you could choose to follow a small minority and use a harebrained amount of knowledge. The decision is up to you.

*Numbers from