Pirates Futility Against Cincinnati is Missed Opportunity

CINCINNATI, OH - MAY 03: John Jaso; (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
CINCINNATI, OH - MAY 03: John Jaso; (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images) /

Analysis: The Pirates futility against Cincinnati shows in their 2-8 record against the last place team this season. This could prove to be a missed opportunity.

The Pirates’ 2017 season has been a disappointment, to say the least. The most obvious culprit has been Starling Marte’s 80 games PED suspension and Jung Ho Kang’s legal troubles keeping him in South Korea. Just having these two players in the starting lineup on a regular basis would have allowed the Pirates to take advantage of what has heretofore been an unexpectedly weak NL Central.

As I write this, the Pirates sit at a 53-57 record, in 4th place in the NL Central, and 5.5 games behind the division-leading Cubs. Even without Kang and Marte, the Pirates are still in striking distance of the division with just under two months remaining in the season. This makes the Pirates’ poor results against another NL Central team especially painful.

The Cincinnati Reds are currently sitting in last place in the division with a 45-65 record. This mark would be even worse if not for their abnormally good performance against the Pirates this season. In the 10 games played between the teams so far this season, the Reds have won 8 of them. They’ve also outscored the Bucs 54-33 over these games. In their games with the Pirates, they have an average run differential of +2.1, while they have a -1.2 run differential in the rest of their games.

Impact on Pirates’ Season

So how hurt have the Pirates been by their underperformance against the Reds? It’s tempting to say the results should be reversed and that the Pirates are the team that should have won 8 games. However, the most likely result would have been for them to win 6 out of these 10 games.

This hypothetical result lines up with 538’s individual game win probabilities. If you add up the individual pre-game win probabilities the result would be for the Pirates to win 5.63 games, which rounds up to 6 games. If this result had occurred, the Bucs would currently have a 57-52 record and only 0.5 games behind the Cubs for 1st place in the NL Central. Needless to say, the actual results are indicative of a gigantic missed opportunity for the Pirates.

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Why are the Reds so Dominant?

What is the cause of the Reds’ mastery of the Pirates this season? The obvious reason is of course that it’s a small 10 game sample size, so the results are not necessarily indicative of a greater truth. This shows in some advanced statistics that indicate the Pirates have had bad luck against the Reds. The team as a whole has a .242 BABIP against the Reds compared with their overall .287 mark. Reds pitchers also have a 4.2% HR/FB rate against the Bucs, which is extremely low and another indicator of luck.

There is also, of course, the Billy Hamilton factor. Throughout his career, the light-hitting Outfielder has had a tendency to turn into Rickey Henderson every time he plays the Buccos. This season has been no different with Hamilton posting a .361 wOBA, compared with his paltry .279 mark he’s posting overall in 2017. His 2 Home Runs against the Pirates this season is also high given that he only has 16 in his career.

Besides Billy Hamilton, other Reds have played well when playing the Pirates. Eugenio Suarez, Scooter Gennett, Adam Duvall, and Jose Peraza all have at least a .350 batting average and a .400 OBP with at least 22 plate appearances each. They also have a combined 8 Home Runs. With so many Reds playing like All-Stars against the Pirates it’s not surprising that the Pirates have struggled vs. Cincinnati.

What can be Salvaged

The Pirates still have 9 games remaining against the Reds, with games in Cincinnati on August 25-27 and September 15-17 and a series in Pittsburgh on September 1-3. The Bucs would need to go at least 8-1 in these games to finish the season with a winning record against the Reds. Even if they don’t win that many, the Pirates have a good chance to make up ground in the division despite their futility in previous meetings with Cincinnati. This is because as mentioned earlier, this was likely primarily due to bad luck.

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While the Bucs have been victims of bad luck to the Reds, it’s undoubtedly disappointing that they haven’t been able to take advantage of their games against them so far. While they are 5.5 games out of 1st place, if they can turn their luck around against the Reds in the future match-ups they can make a dent in that deficit. However, when the season ends, they may look back on their meetings with the Reds as a missed opportunity to contend this year.

*Stats courtesy of Fangraphs, Baseball Reference, and ESPN