Editorial: The Pittsburgh Pirates need to get back to the fundamentals if they want to have a successful season. They need to address the small problems that are arising sooner rather than later.
The last six games the Pittsburgh Pirates played have taken me on an emotional roller-coaster. This past week I watched the Pirates sweep the defending World Series winners and then immediately lose three games to a Cardinals team that looked as good as their 3-9 record going into the series suggested. I saw young pitchers throw absolute gems (see Jameson Taillon, Chad Kuhl, and even parts of Tyler Glasnow’s game against Arrieta), but witnessed a third baseman that can’t keep his personal life from impacting his ability to stay on the field. I also observed Adam Frazier start his run at a batting title, while the Pirates best player got suspended for 80 games (including all post-season action) for doing what we teach kids in 5th grade not to do.
To say the least, I have mixed emotions about the Pittsburgh Pirates right now.
I have very clear feelings about one thing though. If the Pirates don’t start doing the small things right, they don’t have a chance at having a successful season. Even though there is only a 15 game sample size so far in the season, the Pirates are showing early and consistent signs of not playing good baseball. They are losing games because of mistakes, not because they are getting outplayed. Let’s go over some ways that Clint Hurdle can turn this talented squad around and ease the frustrations of many Pirates fans.
#1 Hit with runners in scoring position.
Right now the Pirate’s are hitting a disgusting .202 with runners in scoring position. Just in case you are looking for clarification on what this means – it means the Pittsburgh Pirates are not scoring runs, are not getting timely hits, and will not win games. Check out the teams that have hit the best with runners in scoring position, there is a clear correlation between the teams with the most wins. This .202 number needs to increase for the Pirates to have a successful season. Of course, not by just a little bit, but by a lot.
#2 Clean up the base running.
The Pittsburgh Pirates lead all teams in an interesting category, the number of times players have been caught stealing. No other team matches the Pirates total of 7 times caught stealing (and this does not include the multiple players that have been picked off at 1st base). It’s not because the Pirates are stealing more bases either, the Pirates are only 10th best in the league in that category. Before it is too late, the Pirates need to learn how to run smarter or they need to start running a lot less. A successful team will not lead the league in making outs on the bases. By the way, this is just one-half of the equation. The Pirates also lead the league in the amount of stolen bases allowed by opposing teams.
#3 Learn how to catch and field the baseball.
The Pirates rank 5th in all of Major League Baseball for committing the most fielding errors. Honestly, I think the 11 fielding errors in 15 games is generous, I have seen a lot more. Whether it is Gregory Polanco dropping balls in the outfield, Adam Frazier misplaying easy ground balls, or Phil Gosselin failing to catch throws from his teammates, these errors will and have cost the Pirates baseball games. A number of early errors have come as a surprise, especially since the Pirates often make defensive substitutions and have designed their roster around many defensively oriented players. By tightening up the fielding, the Pirates will add many more tallies to the win column.
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#4 Start hitting for some power.
By the end of the series against the Cardinals, the Pirates had 32 extra base hits. The National League average is 42 through 15 games. The Pittsburgh Pirates also rank 28 out of 30 teams in slugging percentage (a .340 clip). I am not saying the Pirates need to hit the cover off of the ball every game. Nonetheless, they are going to struggle to win games when they are just hitting singles, especially when the team is hitting a lousy .229 on the year.
I love the baseball and I love the Pirates, but there is nothing more frustrating from a fan’s perspective than to watch their team fail game after game at doing the small things right. Simply put, the Pirates need to get back to the fundamentals, address the small issues, and then work on tackling the bigger ones. I put this task mostly on Clint Hurdle and the team’s leaders (Gerrit Cole and Andrew McCutchen), all three of which have seemed absent from a leadership perspective during the beginning of the season.
If the Pirates were in a rebuilding season I could live with some of the issues mentioned above. However, they are not in rebuilding mode. This team can win now and can have an incredible year – the talent is there. Stay optimistic Bucco fans, the journey has just begun.
*All statistics are courtesy of mlb.com and espn.com.