Analysis: The Pittsburgh Pirates lost home run hitters in the 2015 offseason entering the 2016 season. This past offseason, the same happened. There’s been talk about if they need more power or not, which was the same discussion last year. But the question remains, did they add power in 2016 compared to 2015, and how will 2017 turn out?
The Pittsburgh Pirates hit 140 home runs in 2015, with 43 – or 30.7 percent – of those home runs coming from Neil Walker, traded for Jon Niese, and Pedro Alvarez, non-tendered. There was a question if the Pirates were giving up too much power in favor of contact players with high on-base skills, such as high walk rates with low strike rates. John Jaso was signed to play first base and bat leadoff for the club. The team hit Andrew McCutchen second in a more sabermetric inclined lineup. But there was still doubt on if the team was losing home runs.
The argument that always came up, was how the Pirates were losing 43 home runs. Which is not true, and Steamer projected them to hit 136.5 in 2016. That’s a loss in 3.5 home runs. Even when just taking the top 20 in projected playing time, the team was projected at 135 home runs, or five less than 2015. At no point were they just magically losing 43 home runs.
In 2016, the Pirates outperformed their projection and hit a collective 153 home runs, including a 105.5 mile per hour laser by Francisco Liriano off of King Felix Hernandez. The team also increased their nonpitcher ISO (slugging percentage-batting average) from .142 to .151 their slugging from .409 to .414, and their home run per plate appearance from 2.32 percent to 2.54 percent.
Their numbers all rose, so it is simple to just look and point that they increased their power. It is true, all their power numbers went up, but how much did they go up, or down, when compared to the league?
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In 2015, the league average among nonpitchers in ISO was .153, slugging .412, and home runs per plate appearance was 2.74 percent. The Pirates were below average in all of those categories and ranked 25th, 17th, and 23rd respectively. However, in terms of wRC+, the team finished fifth when excluding pitchers, and they finished fourth in on-base percentage.
Then 2016 came, and as seen above, all their power numbers increased, great! However, they finished 23rd in ISO, 20th in slugging, and 26th in home runs per plate appearance. Their nonpitcher wRC+ remained at 105, and the club finished sixth, and once again finished fourth in on base.
The only metric when compared to the league, ignoring park factors, that increased was isolated power, which does signify that they gained power. But their home run output, despite increasing, fell when it came to 2016.
Which brings the discussion on how they will produce in 2016. The team lost Matt Joyce and Sean Rodriguez, two players who hit 31 of the team’s 153 total, equating to 20.3 percent. The amount “lost” is a decrease compared to the amount “lost” from 2015-16 in this perspective. But STEAMER has the team projected for 129 home runs this season, a drop off 24 home runs. That’s a huge loss, more so than the projected loss entering 2016, which was a minimal loss. However, for reference, PECOTA has the Pirates top 13 projected at 147.
A full season of Jung Ho Kang should help in terms of the home run department, and Clint Hurdle‘s “your OPS is in the air” message should help as well. But unlike entering 2016, the concern over the home runs should be more according to STEAMER, anyway. PECOTA gives the Pirates little loss in home runs and should be made not of.
Either way, the supposed loss in power the last two years has been overstated, and the power numbers the Pirates did put up in 2016 were better than in 2015, just not when you compare them to the league.
*Numbers from FanGraphs