The Pittsburgh Pirates offense had question marks coming into this season, mainly focusing on the lack of power, but the team has come through with the power numbers. Analysis: So what has happened to the offensive abilities to this team?
The Pittsburgh Pirates non tendered Pedro Alvarez and traded home town player Neil Walker in the off season. With those two moves, questions about how the team will replace those 43 home runs. The idea was that John Jaso would come into this lineup and get on base in front of Andrew McCutchen. The idea was sound, as Jaso was notorious for his high walk rates and high on-base percentage, and Andrew McCutchen is Andrew McCutchen. The lineup worked wonderfully in April. The team had a slash line of .293/.378/.448, they had 22 home runs, and were scoring 5.3 runs a game.
John Jaso came roaring out of the gate, as he hit ..316/.389/.456, but his BAbip of .338 was rather high for a non speed guy (from 2013-2015 Jaso featured a BAbip of .319). From May until now, Jaso is hitting .249/.336/.364 as he has lost his starting spot to Josh Bell. Jaso was always going to be the place holder for Bell, as he signed a relatively cheap deal, but his rapid decline in 2016 combined with Bell’s defensive struggles in Triple A, the Pirates offense began to slow down.
It was not just John Jaso that has struggled greatly since April. Jordy Mercer slashed a .318/.394/.412 in April, but has since hit .247/.322/.371. Second baseman, and Neil Walker’s replacement, Josh Harrison was hitting .333/.367/.444 in the first month, but has since cooled off to a .263/.289/.362 in the last three plus months. The list of players who have cooled off greatly goes on and on.
Ironically, power has not been the issue
The Pittsburgh Pirates home run power has been far from the issue, as they are averaging 0.93 home runs per game in 2016. In 2015, with Alvarez and Walker, the Pirates were averaging 0.86 home runs per game. In months April through June, the Pirates home runs/game was better in 2016 than it was 2015. The month of July was roughly a push, and in August the 2015 Pirates had the advantage. Ironically, what the team was built to do has let them down. Here’s the on-base percentage per month in 2016 (2015):
- April: .378 (.280)
- May: .333 (.331)
- June: .302 (.325)
- July: .310 (.325)
- August: .322 (.340)
- September: .321 (.328)
September is way early to make a decision on for obvious reasons relating to sample size, but the rest speaks for itself. April is clearly the outlier in both years, being way low last year and way high this year. The way this team was built was a supposed on-base approach, well that approach fell flat on it’s face.
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David Freese has struggled lately, but the idea that it has come since the extension is false.
Yes, David Freese has only hit .161/.316/.161 in 38 plate appearances since signing an extension. However, in the 10 games and 37 plate appearances he had before the extension, Freese was hitting .235/.297/.353. He was struggling heavily before the extension, it’s just appears to be more magnified now. Furthermore, David Freese really has not been all that stellar this year, with most of his numbers indicating a slide was coming. In April and May, Freese hit a combined .296/.374/.428, but his ridiculous .391 BAbip was not going to sustain. Since those two hot months that featured a lot of luck, Freese has hit .245/.336/.405, but has a strikeout rate of 30.4 percent. For comparison sake, strikeout machine Chris Carter has a strikeout rate of 30.7 percent in that span.
With David Freese being a lot of luck early, it should not really be a surprise to see him tail off. When looking at his season and career numbers as a total, Freese really has some bad indicators. His strikeout percentage of 28.2 percent is nearly four percent higher than his previous high of 24.3 in 2014. David Freese is going this all while cutting down his o-swing percentage. This year, Freese has an o-swing of 26.6 percent, his lowest since 2010. The fact that he is striking out more and swinging at less pitches out of the strike zone is cause for concern. Furthermore, his .362 BAbip is still high, as over the previous five years it has been .333. How that contract will look over the next two years will be interesting to watch.
Overall conclusion of the Pirates offense.
The Pittsburgh Pirates offense was mainly built on a lot of luck, and the downfall has mainly been that the players have become who they are, outside of Andrew McCutchen. Jordy Mercer, Josh Harrison, and David Freese are not that good of hitters, but when that makes up three fourths of an infield, the offense was likely going to sputter. John Jaso likely would not have maintained an on-base of close to .390 all year, but with his track record, it was expected to be north of .365, and not .348. When the whole infield is just marginal on offense, the offense will likely be bland.
The team still has pieces for next year on offense. The return of Jung Ho Kang to full health, Francisco Cervelli to full health, and Josh Bell full-time will make a difference. Andrew McCutchen will likely be way better, and Gregory Polanco will be more consistent. The offensive pieces are there, they just need more consistency next season to make a major run at the Cubs.
*Numbers from baseball-reference and as of games entering Monday, September 5th