The Pirates Offense And The Need To Reevaluate Approach

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SAN FRANCISCO, CA - JULY 24: Andrew McCutchen
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - JULY 24: Andrew McCutchen /
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The Pittsburgh Pirates have a struggling offense, and part of the problem is they have no distinct advantage and are lacking in power.

The Pirates have an on-base valued approach,, and it worked well from 2014-16.  The Pirates posted wOBA’s of .336, .322, and .327 in those years, compared to the league non pitchers of .315, .318, and .323.  The offense was above average in terms of a weighted on base metric.  Their regular on-base percentages those years were also above average, posting .340, .333, .340 from 2014-16 compared to the league non pitchers of .318, .321, and .326.  Their approach worked, but now they are coming closer to the league, as the Pirates have seen their on-base percentage fall to .330 with the league at .329.  Below is the difference in the Pirates and the league in on-base percentage, with the highest being in green and transitioning to the lowest in red:

YearDifference
20140.022
20150.012
20160.014
20170.001

The offense has gotten closer and closer to the league average in on-base ability.  Combine the on-base ability falling towards the league and the Pirates slugging power also decreasing, there have been problems created on the offensive side of things.  Below is a breakdown of the Pirates compared to the league of the last four years.  Below is the slugging each year of the Pirates and the league, with the higher value in gold, and the column on the right is the difference between the Pirates and the league, with the highest being in green and transitioning to the lowest in red:

YearPiratesLeagueDifference
20140.4210.3930.028
20150.4090.412-0.003
20160.4140.425-0.011
20170.4030.434-0.031

Over the course of the last four seasons, the Pirates peaked in slugging in 2014, and have dropped since, plummeting to .403 this season.  The gap, after being positive in 2014, has dropped largely each season.  Because of the decrease in on-base ability and complete loss of team power, despite more home runs being hit compared to years past, the Pirates offense is scoring less and less runs compared to the league.  Below is the difference in the Pirates and the league in runs scored per game, with the highest being in green and transitioning to the lowest in red:

YearPiratesLeagueDifference
20144.214.070.14
20154.304.250.05
20164.504.480.02
20174.194.65-0.46

The Pirates have lost their advantage in on-base ability, having six guys above average, one of them being a bench player, another designed to be a bench player at the starter of the season, and an injury prone catcher:

Andrew McCutchen has been on fire since the beginning of May, and that has propelled him up, and he is one of the games best player.  Josh Harrison has been hit 21 times, his previous high was seven, and given his 5.5 percent walk rate – league average is 8.7 percent – Harrison’s reliant on the hit by pitch to boost his on-base percentage if he does not get a hit.

The slugging side of things is not a bright spot, as Andrew McCutchen and Josh Bell are the only repeat names from the players with an above average on-base percentage:

PlayerSLG
Andrew McCutchen0.513
Josh Bell0.483
Jose Osuna0.456

Three players have an above average slugging percentage, and one of them has 191 plate appearances, and he only gets on-base at a rate of .298.  Two starters and a bench player, that is the list.  As a whole the Pirates only have four above average hitters:

PlayerwOBAwRC+
Andrew McCutchen0.377134
Josh Bell0.343112
David Freese0.335107
Josh Harrison0.330104

The Pirates above average hitters include a star, a promising rookie who has sacrificed on-base for power, a player that was supposed to be a bench player and who has lost all power for the ability to get on-base, and a middle infielder who has an inflated on-base percentage due to turning into a ball magnet.

Next: Austin Meadows Returns To Triple A

The approach of getting players who get on-base is not necessarily the wrong one, a guy like Freese is valuable, more so batting second than fourth or fifth.  The main problem is swinging the pendulum to far to the on-base approach.  Jung Ho Kang would have helped with power, no question, but even with him they’re still a below average offense in terms of power.  In a league in which 42 percent of the runs are scored via the home run, the Pirates score 34 percent of their runs via the long ball, a new approach in which is needed.  The Pirates need to add more power bats to the lineup.  Getting on-base is important, but the Pirates complete inability to come close to the league in power numbers needs to change, and is a big reason why the Pirates have seen their run scoring per game decrease relative to the league.

*Numbers from fangraphs and baseball-reference and entering games August 1

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